The Washington Post
Highlights for Children, the venerable childrenâs magazine, tends to focus its moral lessons toward young readers. So it might have taken readers by surprise on Tuesday when its chief executive, Kent Johnson, issued a statement aimed at grown-ups, including the Goofus in the White House, condemning the Trump administrationâs family separations and asking readers to advocate for detained immigrant children.
âOur companyâs core belief, stated each month in Highlights magazine, is that âChildren are the worldâs most important people.â This is a belief about ALL children,â Johnson wrote. ââŠThis is a plea for recognition that these are not simply the children of strangers for whom others are accountable. This is an appeal to elevate the inalienable right of all children to feel safe and to have the opportunity to become their best selves.â
Even skeptical readers itching to condemn Highlights for partisanship ought to listen to Johnsonâs reasoning. Itâs a powerful reminder that there are things we owe children and that weâre failing to provide to not just migrant children but also children who were born in the United States.
Migrant parents who are trying to bring their children to the United States are doing so in pursuit of those rights to safety and opportunity. Whatâs particularly horrifying about family separations and the appalling conditions in which some migrant children are reportedly detained is that these policies pervert those aims in the most profound way. Even if you think adult migrants should punished for breaking the law, creating conditions in which their children are filthy, hungry, and cold is an unacceptable way to do it.
Immigration is hardly the only area of policy in which childrenâs rights are minimized or ignored. Take vaccination, which opponents often present as a matter of parental choice and personal liberty. Never mind that the evidence is overwhelming that vaccinations are safe, that they do not cause autism and that megadonors have funded a misinformation campaign about this vital treatment.
Similar dynamics are in play in the debate over the role that access to guns plays in school shootings. One solution would be to limit access to the weapons used in these shootings. But because itâs apparently more important to us that adults have relatively easy access to guns, we instead pass on all sorts of costs to children and count them as the price of that adult freedom. School districts bring law enforcement officers to campus, resulting in more children being criminalized for behaving in fairly normal ways. Students are subjected to macabre active shooter drills, some of them over and over again.
Thinking about what we owe children doesnât mean we have to give them everything they want. Weâre still adults, and we know that itâs better for children to eat protein and vegetables for dinner than to subsist on candy, and that they will have more opportunities later in life if they go to school than if they run away from home and live in a tree in the backyard. Rather, focusing on what we owe children is a way of forcing ourselves to reassess our own decision-making and to examine whether weâve truly been prioritizing their interests rather than our own.
If youâre refusing to vaccinate your kid, is it truly because youâve examined the most credible scientific evidence? Or is it because youâre so paralyzed by fear of an autism diagnosis that youâll do anything to give yourself the illusion of control over the uncontrollable, and youâre willing to expose your child to the risk of a preventable illness to manage your own fear?
If youâve decided that measures other than restricting the ability to buy certain guns are the key to ending school shootings, what do you think children get out of active shooter drills in particular? And if youâve looked at photographer Julia Le Ducâs shattering image of a Salvadoran child and her father drowned in the Rio Grande and thought only of his conduct as a parent, what are you telling your children about how other adults ought to feel about them?
âLet our children draw strength and inspiration from our collective display of moral courage,â Johnson wrote. âThey are watching.â And what they see isnât merely how we feel about other children but what we think adults owe them.