| Gemma Tognini |
Family legend has it that my brother named me.
That three-year-old Toggo looked at his fresh-baked baby sister and lovingly cooed, let’s name her Gemma.
As if …
The facts are far less romantic, way more in the league of parental Jedi mind games.
My late Dad was very close to his Zia Gemma, having lived with her in Lodi, outside of Milan for a brief period after the war.
Planting the idea in my brother’s young, malleable mind well in advance of my arrival, Old Mate apparently set him up with a series of outrageous and overtly leading questions such as “Gemma’s a great name if it’s a girl, don’t you think? YOU could call her Gemma.”
And whaddya know. My three-year-old brother, well and truly primed for the task, “decided” to name me Gemma.
Forgive this very Tognini stroll down memory lane but I was reminded of this yarn during the week on reading how a North Sydney-based preschool copped a tsunami of (in my view, well deserved) criticism for using very young children to canvass support for a cause that could only be described as activism.
In case you missed it, the childcare centre used kids between the ages of three and five to drum up support for a petition that calls for the Aboriginal flag to be flown permanently atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
These little ones, instead of you know, being kids, reportedly walked up and down station platforms and sat outside their houses to get as many signatures as possible.
To set some things, and no doubt, some people straight, the subject matter of the petition is irrelevant, to me at least.
This is not a conversation about indigenous recognition (I’m still working on that one).
It’s a wider conversation about the morals of using kids for adult political purposes, how on earth it’s become so fashionable, and when we’re going to start being honest with each other about how the whole deal is utter bollocks.
The concept isn’t new.
When your argument can’t stand up to scrutiny, who better to hide behind than a cute kiddo or a crying teenager.
History is littered with absolute extremes of this behaviour but just because ASIO isn’t recruiting kids to spy on their parents, Ceausescu–style, doesn’t mean there isn’t creeping ugliness that we should confront.
From a purely Machiavellian perspective, it makes total sense to use a child or teenager to prosecute an argument.
Even more so if that argument or platform is not well developed, in its infancy, or open to robust counterclaim.
What I mean by that is simple. When your argument can’t stand up to scrutiny, who better to hide behind than a cute kiddo or a crying teenager.
And why wouldn’t you? It’s a lot harder to be critical of what a child or adolescent is saying, regardless of how flawed the argument, without looking like a bully.
Add to that, we know that digital activism is so heavily skewed towards the young in all respects, so it makes sense to make them the tool as well as the target.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself watching this stuff play out in various ways and situations and wondering, who is protecting these kids? Who is protecting their incredibly brief childhood years from adult concerns and from being used for adult purposes?
Some would say my concern is paternalism masquerading as concern. That in suggesting (for example) that preschoolers should be prevented from being used as political props I’m actually prejudiced against them, not trying to protect them. I am the oppressor, squashing their right to freedom of expression.
This school of thought is called “childism” and no, I didn’t make that up. Google it.
Those who believe it’s a thing, say being “childist” is an ideological prejudice just like sexism or racism is.
And no, I didn’t make that up either. 2019, the year of intellectual largesse.
One psychologist I read this week quite sensibly observed that good decision-making is complex and takes years of experience to master, and because children lack experience and perspective they tend to make decisions that are impulsive and focused on immediate gratification.
The only people buying it are the ones who are peddling it.
Well toot my horn, who’d have thought?
Yet, typically “grown-ups” involved in politicising kids would have us believe the ideas, the passion, the micro activism is all organic.
For example, we were being asked to buy the proposition that a four-year-old understands and independently, without any coaching or leading, subscribes to the concept that failing to fly an indigenous flag on the harbour bridge is disrespectful.
I do not buy that and neither does anyone else who has interacted at length with a four-year-old.
That’s one example. Down the road a bit, you’ve got the Greens advocating to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. No prizes for guessing why.
So, what’s the common thread here? Activism by stealth except it’s about as undercover as Liberace’s stage wardrobe.
One of my closest friends, a mum of three, has always approached this subject with the view that children (of any age) should be able to make decisions for which they are able to carry the full weight of consequences. A most excellent and sensible platform from which to operate, if you ask me.
The notion that small children are really just pint-sized activists, moving triumphantly from toilet training to climate change, from Minecraft to gender equality is just a nonsense.
The only people buying it are the ones who are peddling it.
We have laws about what’s appropriate for small children and teenagers, mostly put there to protect them. For the most part, sensible. Ratings around violence and sexually explicit material on TV and in movies. What a child can and can’t be exposed to.
That’s because we recognise and want to protect their vulnerability. Most of us do, anyway.
The UN agrees, for what it’s worth. It states, (among other things) that children should be protected from all forms of exploitation. All forms. Even this one.