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Locke and Our Parents

October 24, 2010

Although this hasn’t been much discussed in class and discussion sessions, I thought it might be an interesting to look into.

Teenagers, and even young children nowadays struggle with their parents of “over-controlling, over-protecting, and over-demanding”, as most of them would say. On the other hand, parents also struggle with their children because they “don’t listen, and don’t obey”.

A lot of parents, especially mothers, like to put their children under full control. They look over everything their children do – their studies, friends, leisure time, activities – everything. I’ve seen moms scheduling their children’s everyday routine according to what they think is best, that their children aren’t allowed to do anything without their permission, and that the children have to live everyday according to their schedule; I’ve seen friends of mine, who are already 18, not allowed to go out with friends for dinner; I’ve seen parents holding very tight onto their children’s finances, overlooking every penny they spend, and have all the money the children receive from other people to be kept by them. To the children, these are called over-controlling, but to the parents, these are protecting and doing what’s best for their children.

I do not doubt that any parent would harm his/her child, but how do we define what’s best for children and teenagers?

In Second Treatise of Government, Locke tells us his perspective of the power of parents.

Children, I confess, are not born in this state of equality, though they are born to it. Their Parents have a sort of tule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after, but it is but a temporary one. (55, pg 300)

According to Locke, children are indeed under a certain control and jurisdiction of their parents, however, not eternally, but only for a certain period of time, until the children are mature enough to make their own decisions, and how Locke defines mature enough, is by how a person knows about the law. Children, as they grow up, and as they know more about the society and the law, are loosened from their parent’s control and jurisdiction, becoming one with free will.

Age and reason, as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop quite off, and leave a man at his own free disposal. (55, pg 300)

… any one comes not to such a degree of reason, wherein he might be supposed capable of knowing the law, and so living within the rules of it; he is never capable of being a free man … And so lunatics and idiots are never set free rom the government of their parents. (60, pg 301)

Locke seems to disagree with the fact how parents keep their controls on their children for as long as they could, putting on the same attitude on their children when their 18 years old as if they were 3-year-olds. Locke believes that every person will grow to learn about reason, the law, and what’s right and what’s wrong. When a person grows to be able to understand morals and the laws, he/she is then not bound to his/her parent’s control and demand.

However, Locke, on the other hand, also agrees that the power of parents over children is necessary and important, that this power is for the good of children.

… all parents were, by the law of nature, under and obligation to preserve, nourish, and educate the children … (56, pg 300)

Locke also puts a limit to what parents can do and demand from their children, that they do not have control over the lives and possessions of their children.

His command over his children is but temporary, and reaches not their life or property. (65, pg 303)

Parents can instead teach their children how to manage their property and how to live their lives.

By combining Locke’s words and views with the behavior of parents nowadays, we can conclude that the power of parents over their children is necessary and important, and that children nowadays should not be requesting for absolute freedom and fairness between themselves and their parents because they are still not mature enough. Locke believes that parents should do what’s best for their children, teaching them morals and laws; but yet again, I have to stress, that the word “best” used here is very vague, and is hard to determine. Also, maturity is a very subjective thing, and cannot be determined by just one reference. People determine maturity based on different aspects, and so even a person who is 20, not a lunatic nor an idiot, can still be immature in his/her parents eyes. Therefore, we are assured that children should be under the control of their parents at least at a young age, but the concept of “what’s best for the children”,  maturity, and that whether parents should have control and right over their children’s property still remains uncertain – different people have different values, and so they nurture and educate their children in different ways.

No one is perfectly right, nor is Locke.

I guess, the only thing that we can be sure of is that – educating, nurturing, and reasonable controlling of one’s children is not a will, but a responsibility – and so the problem of right or wrong, doesn’t lie in this statement.

  1. koralcf permalink
    October 26, 2010 7:46 PM

    You are accurate in stating that what is “best” for children is subjective. It truly does depend on times and different situations. However, I think that it can be agreed that there is a general conception that Locke thinks is best for children. He thinks it is best for them to learn about the laws and that part of the teaching is the responsibility of the parents. I would then think that parents would all agree that, in Locke’s terms, teaching their kids about the laws is best.

    On another note, when I compare my mother’s theory of parenthood and what she thinks is best to Locke’s theory I have found a similarity. My mother has always said that it is her job to make me wise and mature just as Locke says the parents have control over children for a “temporary” time to teach them about the laws and about making decisions until the children can act for themselves. My mother would argue with Locke over the word “temporary”. From her view, she is in control of me to some degree until she dies because she will always be wiser and have things to teach me. She believes this because she will continue to experience things in life before I have the chance to. Therefore, she will always have new wisdom to pass on to me from situations I have yet to experience. Do I think she is completely right? No, but she has a point.

  2. Steve Neff permalink
    October 26, 2010 8:56 PM

    This was a very interesting read. Locke’s beliefs are very similar to most parents today in my opinion. It is the duty of parents to educate their children, instill in them good moral values and just teach them about life until they are free to live on their own. But I think you are wrong in thinking that all parents today are this overprotective monster that won’t let their children do anything. There are many ways parents let go and allow their children to grow up and learn a little on their own. One way is sending their children to sleepaway camp. I’m sure many mothers spend many sleepless nights worrying about how their children is doing at camp but this is one way to let children go and mature. During teenage years that rope gets looser and looser, as young adults get more and more freedom. They get a cell phone, they go out with there friends and spend hours on the computer talking to their friends. I think Locke sums it up perfectly when he says that quote you used, “Age and reason, and when they grow up, loosen them, till at length they quote drop off and are free”. This is how children are raised today. In most cases, adults have total freedom at the age of 18 when they are at college for 3/4 of the year. It’s funny how prevalent Locke is in our society today, even in the adolescent of a human being.

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