Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

A Lesson Learned: Children and Agency

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dim...

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I had a moment of internal conflict. I write and speak about letting our children define themselves on their own terms instead of putting them in pink and blue boxes and confining them to gender stereotypes. As the mother of three daughters, I get the chance on a daily basis to practice what I preach. I had one of those opportunities not long ago, and I’ll be honest, it was kind of hard for me.

Here’s what happened, my youngest daughter Allie is 8. Her school pictures were this week. I set out different outfits for her to consider wearing for her picture, she took hear time looking them over, and then said to me, “Mommy, thanks for showing me these outfits. They’re all really cute. But, this year, I really want to wear something that expresses who I am. So, I want to wear my Phineas and Ferb t-shirt with Agent P on it doing karate.”

Oh boy. You teach kids to share their thoughts with you and to think for themselves, and then they actually do it, and you have to think about the levels of autonomy that are developmentally appropriate. As a parent, I had to ask myself a few questions as I tried to decide if it was appropriate for Allie to wear the outfit that she wanted to for her picture.  These can be a good way to help you think through these conversations with your own children. The questions were:

  •  Will it hurt her or anyone else in any way  (socially, emotionally, physically) to take this course of action?
  • What message am I sending her about her agency (control of herself) by either making her wear what I want her to or letting her wear her choice?
  • What message am I sending her about objectification (her seeing herself as an object for another person’s view) by either making her wear what I want her to or letting her wear her choice?
  • Is her argument well-reasoned and supported? Does she have a good reason for wanting to do this?
  • In the long run, does it matter?

When adults make a commitment to teach our children to be agents of their own lives, we will be challenged by some of their thoughts and requests. It’s important that we think carefully about how we help the children in our lives make thoughtful, agenic choices.

I ended up letting Allie wear her Agent P t-shirt in her picture. And you know what? She looked happier and more relaxed than she ever has in a school picture! She usually has this nervous, pressed lip smile in yearbook pictures, but this year she was smiling her real smile, wide and confident. Did it have to do with her choosing her own clothes? I’m not sure, but it couldn’t have hurt.

Do you have other ideas for questions that we might ask ourselves as we help the children in our lives think about making agenic choices? I’d love for you to share them.

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2013 by in Acting and tagged , , , .
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