Regarding Curfews

I received an email this morning from a high school student in Chicago asking me about my thoughts regarding curfew laws. Here’s what I sent her, plus some:

I want to start by acknowledging that curfews don’t violate an essential human right; however, as with many poorly concieved age-discriminatory laws in the US, they do compromise the ability of children and youth to fully realize their rights as citizens of this country and their responsibilities as members of families and communities. Curfew laws do this by restricting the ability of young people to travel freely between and within borders, and by unjustly limiting the movements of people simply because of the arbitrary markers of age, rather than their personal capacity.

What these arbitrary markers do is label entire segments of the population as incapable simply because of their age. While many opponents of eliminating age limits insist that brain science justifies their discrimination, it’s important to remember that age barriers such as the right to vote, the right to choose whether to attend school, and the right to travel freely were started in Victorian times, long before any legitimate brain science was started. Couching illegitimate discrimination in legitimate science is the best adultists can do. Brain science has continually demonstrated the increased capacity of the human brain to more than we recognie at younger ages. Let’s pay attention, acknowledge, and capitalize on that reality, and stop infantalizing children and youth.

While mainstream media and many government officials justify this infantalization of young people with brain science and testimonies of parents, teachers, and even youth themselves, these are almost always biased analyses based in adultist, ephebiphobic perspectives. Without honest, open conversations throughout our society about the roles of young people and the effects of curfews and other discrminatory acts, we’re going to keep getting get what we’ve supposedly been getting for a long time: generations of apparently apathetic, seemingly disconnected citizenry who don’t vote, don’t volunteer, don’t rally, and don’t create the change our world so desperately needs.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!
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I'm a writer, trainer, speaker, and consultant. My work focuses on helping schools, nonprofits, and government agencies become more effective at engaging people.

comments (3)

  • Reply

    March 13, 2010

    This commentary is spot on. Being a psych major, with an emphasis on human development, I found myself cheering for your second paragraph, because it states exactly what is wrong with the thinking behind age-based laws–that they’re outdated.

    Now if you’ll let me indulge another one of my academic pursuits (philosophy), I’ve pinpointed the exact reasoning that feeds into our current age-based laws. First, they had to describe what we mean by giving liberties to citizens:

    “The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” –John Stewart Mill (On Liberty)

    Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well unfortunately, some people don’t make the cut:

    “It is perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury.” –John Stewart Mill (On Liberty)

    Remember, these were the same thinkers who believed only white landowning males should have a right to vote. Over time, things have changed, all except this little exception it seems.

    This is just to give readers some idea of what constituted a “reason” to discriminate against young people amounted to back in the Victorian age (and sadly, show how little has changed in society’s current thinking on this issue since then).

    Great pst.

  • Reply

    April 14, 2010

    Hi Adam.

    “I want to start by acknowledging that curfews don’t violate an essential human right”

    I’m curious what exactly you mean. Do you mean that the right to move about within your town state or country are not rights as intinsic as food, shelter and water? Or do you mean that this right is not on the same par as the right to freedom of speech, the freedom to vote, the freedom to be free from discrimination because of skin colour, etc?

    I’m curious what your thoughts are about this, because I feel like it’s wrong for the state to harass its citizens with laws which target minorities. How do you define essential human rights? And if freedom to be outside at night is not a right, what is it?

    –parbor
    forums.youthrights.org

  • Reply

    April 14, 2010

    Hey Parbor, thanks for writing! Thanks for calling this out – the only way I learn is through doing, and here you’re making me think more!

    First, I want to say that by saying that line first I’m trying to allow a space for well-meaning adults to access a conversation that may challenge their core beliefs about youth. It’s cool if you disagree – I do sometimes, too.

    I’m going to answer your questions here:

    Do you mean that the right to move about within your town state or country are not rights as intinsic as food, shelter and water?
    Yes, I do mean that freedom of movement is not as elemental as freedom of food, water, and shelter. That doesn’t mean it’s not important – just not as important.

    Do you mean that this right is not on the same par as the right to freedom of speech, the freedom to vote, the freedom to be free from discrimination because of skin colour, etc?
    Nope, I don’t mean that. I think curfews limit freedom of speech and movement, and that discrimination against youth is still discrimination.

    “…I feel like it’s wrong for the state to harass its citizens with laws which target minorities.”
    Yes, I agree with you. Adultism is eating the heart of our society.

    How do you define essential human rights?
    Food, water and shelter are the most basic, elemental rights every person should experience.

    And if freedom to be outside at night is not a right, what is it?
    It is a right, regardless of age. Everyone should be allowed to move freely anytime of day; this article was only intended to get folks interested in the conversation.

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