Parents, leave the kids alone


Less than two weeks after Victorian union heavy John Setka got his two children to hold a “Go get f***ed” sign directed at Stephen McBurney, the head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission as part of a Father’s Day tweet (“Message to McBurney and the ABCC: Leave our dads alone and catch the real criminals you cowards”), we have another children’s crusade, this time in Queensland:

A nine year-old schoolgirl is facing suspension after she refused to stand for Australia’s national anthem.

Harper Nielsen, a student at Kenmore South State School in Brisbane, decided to protest against Advance Australia Fair, saying it was not inclusive of indigenous Australians…

Harper told The Courier-Mail the line in the national anthem, “for we are young and free”, disregarded Aboriginals who had lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years and only saw Australia as a country post-colonisation.

I vaguely remember being 9 myself; I wasn’t a dumb kid but at that age I wasn’t analysing the meaning of the national anthem rhetoric in light of the post-colonial historiography, or whatever the equivalent in the communist Poland in 1979 would have been. Harper might be an exceptionally bright girl but all this smacks of a stunt. Her father, Mark Nielsen, is an associate professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, specialising in “socio-cognitive development in young human children and non-human primates” and “charting the origins and development of human cultural cognition”. It sounds like the co-author of academic articles like “The developmental origins of moral concern: an examination of moral boundary decision making throughout childhood“, “Cultural and family influences on children’s theory of mind development: a comparison of Australian and Iranian school-age children” and “The cost of helping: an exploration of compassionate responding in children” has got himself a live case study here. (Harper’s mother, by the way, is Yvette Miller, an associate professor of Public Health at QUT and a deputy director and senior research fellow at the Queensland Centre for Mothers and Babies at UQ).

The phenomenon of children used as political puppets and props is of course not new and nor is it restricted to one side of politics. So my message is to all the parents who think it’s a great idea to drag children to political rallies or dress them up as human billboards or get them spouting political talking points: don’t. I respect your right to have your beliefs and agitate for them. I acknowledge but don’t necessarily agree with the fact that you will be most likely trying to indoctrinate your children from an early age to share these beliefs. But for goodness’ sake, be an adult and leave the kids alone to be kids. They will grow up fast enough as it is and soon will be able be their own people and do and say what they want . In the meantime, don’t keep dragging them into every cause de jour.  I won’t say that it smacks of child abuse but it’s certainly a cowardly tactic, because what you’re really doing is using your child as a human shield, knowing that most people will (rightly) refrain from criticising a minor and those who do instantly lose in the battle for the public’s hearts and minds. Regardless, however, you are exposing your child to pubic attention and controversy, which they are not equipped to handle (God knows, many adults still aren’t).

Don’t make your offspring have the courage of your own convictions. Parents, leave the kids alone. Otherwise you’re just another prick in the wall.