The treatment of children is often a difficult topic for many to navigate as children are largely unable to take care of themselves. As such, they are dependent on their parents for care, support, and wisdom to flourish into functioning adults.
As Voluntaryists try to maximize consent and minimize the initiation of violence, the respect of children’s bodies and wills is an important consideration in fostering and reciprocating peace and love.
Of first importance is defining the relationship between parents and children. Unlike Rothbard, I do not see children as being “owned” by their parents. This is because children are independent human beings who are exercising control over their bodies to the exclusion of others. Rather than defining the relationship as “ownership,” I consider the relationship to be a trust relationship where parents are acting as stewards of children until they are mature enough to take care of themselves without their parents’ help.
This makes for a clear distinction and rejection of Rothbard’s “market in children” formulation as offering children up for adoption is not a “sale” so much as a negative contractual duty to not claim that someone is the parent or steward of a child.
As stewards, parents have the highest trust relationship for children as the biological norm. It is well-known that a child’s biological parents have the closest connection because of the bio-chemical relationship fostered by a child and mother in utero. A mother has the highest investment in the wellbeing of a child in that she has offered up her bodily resources and, thus, should be viewed as having the highest stewardship rights claim.
In this environment, parents may exercise their property rights for the sake of rearing a child in a healthy path. A parent can offer a child food, shelter, and companionship so long as those actions are not violating the physical body of a child. A parent can refuse to provide unhealthy things to a child as well to ensure that a child is not harmed by something that he or she cannot handle.
In this realm, young children are not able to fully consent to all activities an adult can because they do not have the brain capacity to be able to understand what it is they are engaging in. This is where the stewardship of the parent exists to help protect a child from poor choices or unknown risks and dangers.
A Voluntaryist parent who wishes to help a child build a strong foundation for independence so that their children can meaningfully consent one day ought to use peaceful parenting tactics based in reason and evidence as opposed to spanking, threats, and yelling. If you’re not familiar with peaceful parenting, that is okay. For now, it can be summed as looking to use words and empathetic touch over threats and physical hitting to help children learn how to manage their thoughts, emotions, and bodily functions. (You can read several books on how to be an effective peaceful parent and non-violent communicator below.)
Voluntaryist parenting discipline, if required, is focused on removing rewards/good things rather than using hitting and threats. In this manner, Voluntaryists seek to provide such a loving and building home environment that a child would want to behave in a peaceful manner to continue enjoying their fun activities.
A parent can of course stop a child’s dangerous behavior through force, but this does not need to be escalated to hitting to help a child learn.
For example, many mistakenly make a hyperbolic assertion that a parent cannot stop a child from touching a hot stove or running across a road with traffic because it stops the “will” of the child.
This is a mistake of thinking that stems from not analyzing all property rights norms in the environment.
At home, the stove belongs to the parent, and a parent has a property right to stop a child from touching a hot stove as it is their property. A parent could, in teaching a lesson, even hold a child’s hands above a hot stove if a child is curious while saying “hot” to communicate to a child the dangers of touching a stove.
Likewise, a parent stopping a child from walking into a busy intersection is providing property rights defense for oncoming drivers as the child walking into their moving cars would be a violation of that driver’s property right in their car.
While describing a parent’s right to stop a child from danger in property rights terms may seem a bit academic and pedantic to explore, it is an important analysis to build a consistent framework of philosophy so that the ethical treatment of children can be advanced.
Eventually, when a young person is ready and able to leave out on their own, their journey into adulthood will be complete and social norms built on the Voluntaryist ethic will lead to respect of a young person’s decision to start their own independent life.
If you wish to build your own toolkit for helping children grow up in a peaceful and supportive home, please get and read the following books below:
Healing The Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families Paperback
by Charles L. Whitfield M.D.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships
by Marshall B. Rosenberg Ph.D.
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
by Dr. Laura Markham
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray