My Little Anti-Authoritarians

By Jeffrey Pillow on October 28, 2019 — 3 mins read

I don’t like authority. I’ve always been this way. And apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My kids don’t take well to it either. Some may see this as karmic justice. I’d put forth those individuals don’t comprehend what karma actually means.

My little anti-authoritarians, as I sometimes like to call them, are a reminder to me that questioning authority is a healthy exercise in understanding the principles and values system from which we, as a culture and as a society, including the familial structure, are brought forth in.

There are times, often, I must turn my head to smile when they disobey my request.

“Ah,” I think of the little boogers. “You are strong on your own two feet. This will treat you well as you grow. Now come take a bath.”

We often exclude children in this molding of cultural norms and expectations despite children being the most naturally gifted inquisitors known to our species. You could say their favorite letter in the alphabet is Y (why).

We justify our authority by giving it names like respect and civility. Though we may not outright state it, when we speak, our expectation is our children should listen to us always. Why? Because we’re adults, we’re parents, so we’re supposedly smarter. Wiser. Respect my authority. Do what I say. Why? Because I said so. No need for questions.

Yet respect is a two-way street authoritarian voices rarely travel. Listening is an alleyway only the receiver is backed up against. Furthermore, an authoritarian voice or request is not the equivalent of an authoritative voice or request. They are different, though confused repeatedly by the authoritarian. One is based on control, the other on mutual respect and warmth.

This is my default thinking. When someone tells me what to do, my natural instinct isn’t simply to do the opposite. It’s to question whether the directive is valid.

You’re telling me x, but is x what I want/need, is it beneficial to us both, or is it merely for the benefit of your ego and need for control? Is there a middle way or is it your way or the highway?

Principles matter.

Doing the opposite for the sole purpose of doing the opposite has less to do with being anti-authoritarian and more to do with simply being an unprincipled antagonist. For children, it’s important to explore boundaries and to develop a firsthand comprehension of the principles at play. It’s how children learn.

When my children are kicking the soccer ball in the yard and it’s time to come in and get ready for bed, our starting points are polar opposites at that moment in time. Mine is to secure them indoors to wind down for the day. Theirs is to continue having fun and play. I am tired. They are full of energy.

When I ask them to come in, their interpretation is I’m raining on their fun. How in the world could I ask them to stop? Plus, the sun is still up.

An authoritarian parent responds, “Now.”

An authoritative parent concedes, “Five more minutes, and that’s it. You need to get plenty of rest for tomorrow.”

Children don’t learn that four equals four because you tell them. They learn by putting two and two together. You can teach them this lesson and allow them to question the why behind these principles; or, you can choose not.

As for my little anti-authoritarians, I’m okay with a little disobedience if it means they are thinking for themselves. A healthy dose of questioning is good. It keeps me in check. So long as it doesn’t hurt them badly, it’s a concession I need to consider.

Children that stop questioning become teenagers who don’t question who become adults who don’t question. They bow to peer pressure. They fall in line even when the line is walking toward the edge of a cliff. It’s too late then to ask for an about-face.

They believe inaction will magically right wrongs. They believe authoritarianism is strength when it is little more than preying on weakness. As a society we should never lean into the acceptance of authoritarian voices. Nor should we teach our children through our own example this is okay.

If anything, we should learn from our little anti-authoritarians. It seems like more and more each day, they, not us, are able to recognize the elementary difference between right and wrong, and ask, “Why?”

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