What would happen if we put children first in our country? What would happen if we empowered children at all ages and centered the law to protect our youngest citizens? In this episode Diana talks to Adam Benforado, a children’s rights expert, an award winning author and law professor at Drexel University, about why prioritizing kids would benefit us all.
In his critically acclaimed new book, A Minor Revolution: How Prioritizing Kids Benefits Us All, Adam criticizes America’s failure to invest in, protect, and empower its youngest citizens and presents a bold plan for reorienting society to put children first. Through historical context, personal stories and making compelling arguments, Adam makes an important case as to why centering our kids will help all of us in society.
In this episode Diana and Adam discuss:
- the 1989 Convention on the Rights of Child (and why the USA hasn’t ratified it yet)
- What “parents’ rights” mean in the context of children’s rights then and today
- what happens when the law doesn’t center children in making decisions
- The paradox between expecting kids to grow up quickly
- why young activists and teenagers should be allowed to vote
- AND MORE!
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION NOW BELOW OR WHEREVER YOU LISTEN TO YOUR PODCASTS!
ORDER ADAM’S BOOK HERE A Minor Revolution: How Prioritizing Kids Benefits Us All
Adam’s book A Minor Revolution: How Prioritizing Kids Benefits Us All, is divided into the following sections where he makes the case for the follwoing rights in each moment in a child’s life:
- First years: the right to attachment
- Early childhood: the right to investment
- Late childhood the right to community
- Early adolescence the right to be a kid
- Late adolescent the right ot be heard
- On the cusp of adulthood: the right to start fresh
If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe, leave a review, recommend the podcast to your friends and follow us on IG: @parentingandpolitics.You can also email your comments and ideas for guests at email@example.com
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: READ DIANA AND ADAM’S CONVERSATION BELOW!
00:08 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Welcome to Parenting and Politics, a podcast for parents who want to make a difference, where we look at parenting through a political lens. I’m Diana Lomondji. Today, our guest is Adam Benferrado, an award-winning author and a law professor at Drexel University. Adam is the author of the New York Times bestseller Unfair, the New Science of Criminal Justice and a new book called A Minor Revolution how Prioritizing Kids Benefits Us All, which is what he’s here to talk about, and I’m so excited. Adam lives in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, with his wife and two kids, and I’m so excited you’re here. Welcome, Adam, to the podcast.
00:45 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
It is a pleasure to be with you.
00:47 – Diana Limongi (Host)
So, before we begin the meat of the conversation, I always ask my guest the same question, which is, when I say parenting and politics, what comes to mind?
00:58 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I guess it would be another p poisonous. And I think that’s kind of the current landscape where I think politics to use kind of the poison metaphor has kind of infected parenting and, I think, made parenting much worse and much more of a challenge, where I think everything that we now do feels like it has these incredible consequences, not just for our kids but for the fate of our nation, and the weight of the world is on our shoulders and I want to change that. That’s one of the reasons that I wrote a book about bettering the lives of children. I think that’s a gateway to bettering the lives of people like you and I or our parents.
01:42 – Diana Limongi (Host)
No one has ever said poisonous, that’s so we’re starting. We’re starting. I bring the controversy right out of the gate. No, no, you bring it, you bring it.
01:53 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
We got to hook the listeners here.
01:56 – Diana Limongi (Host)
This is fascinating and, by the way, I love alliteration, so I love the fact that you’re with another peep. So before we dive in, I want to set the stage and kind of mention right, let’s just rattle out how we’re failing kids. So we’re a country that tries and locks up kids in adult prisons, Isn’t doing anything about gun violence, that kills our children in schools and in malls and in movie theaters and in bowling alleys and in supermarkets, and I could go on and on and the whole hour of the podcast would be about the different places. Cities and states are constantly defunding public education. There’s a school to prison pipeline. You know kids in preschool primarily kids of color in preschool they get sent home, they get, you know, in trouble for suspended.
02:39 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
Thank you, suspended, expelled, it’s all in there and it’s a set routine that we and a tragedy that we repeat every single day in this country.
02:51 – Diana Limongi (Host)
And the USA is the only industrialized country that doesn’t give its parents paid leave when they have kids. It’s only one of the few countries where we don’t have paid sick days, which forces us to go to work unhealthy, which puts, you know, everyone around us in harm’s way, which makes us even sicker at times. Right, the list goes on and on. We don’t have universal health care and right now, the latest thing, that one of the latest things, I think this was a week ago the Republicans have said that one of their priorities is to def is to make sure that they don’t fund universal lunch in schools, because you know why feed kids that are that need to be fed. So that’s where we are so poisonous. Is the right, the right way to start the podcast? The United States is the only country that has not ratified the 1989 convention of the rights of the child, and every country in the world can agree on the principles, and I know that it’s flawed because in some countries, you know, they say they, they accept it with, with the what’s the word?
03:54 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
03:55 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Thank you Reservations, but the idea of the convention is that children have rights that are that should be protected to receive health care and education, to be able to express themselves a voice in what what affects them, right? So so, okay, I think it’s interesting to know that one of the reasons the US hasn’t adopted it is because of something called infringing on parental rights, which is something that we’re hearing about a lot in 2023. And it’s something that that a lot of parental rights advocates, let’s just say, are using to do things like ban books and change curricula and not teach actual history about what slavery is and all these things.
So do you think that parental rights is sometimes used as an excuse for the government to not invest in children?
04:50 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I do. I think that’s a that’s a nice way of articulating it and it’s kind of weird. You know, you mentioned European countries and we really are different, I think, on this, this axis, and I don’t think it had to be this way.
I think if we go back, you know, 100 years ago, we had this really remarkable moment coming out of the Industrial Revolution where, you know, a bunch of people looked around and said, oh my gosh, you know we’re doing wrong by our children, and I’m concerned about that, not simply because children are suffering. There are children who are dying of not having enough food to eat, they’re losing fingers in factories, they’re getting sick and dying from faulty, fraudulent medicines. They looked at it and said this is going to doom us as a nation, and to be a strong nation, we need to put all of our money into children. The project of raising kids is a communal endeavor, because we all bear the consequences of our mistreatment of children, and so these you know early progressives, you know, gave rise to robust public schools and interventions that led to a juvenile justice system, public health, interventions that you know gave us clean cow’s milk, playgrounds. All these things came out of this movement and it was a flawed one right.
I think these individuals, the institutions they’re created, tended to be very paternalistic. I think they didn’t even think about the lives of Black and Brown children. And I think over the course of the century, when we get up to the civil rights movement, there was a sense that, like, these institutions were kind of unredeemable and kind of had to be raised and we really lost momentum. And there was this shift away from thinking about, like, the project of raising kids as something that we’re all in on. We have rights and responsibilities as a nation and as individual communities to our kids, to the idea that the project of raising kids is on mom and dad, although and this again tied into a much longer history an individualist notion that all of us are, you know, out on the frontier in our little log cabin with our shotgun, us against the world. And I think that that spirit was really animated by elite institutions. We, over the course of the 20th century, we have some Supreme Court opinions which come out and say, actually, mom and dad are the deciders, they are the directors of their children’s destinies when it comes to schools, when it comes to healthcare, when it comes to who they interact with out in the world, family connections and the like. But it was also something that I think really has been bolstered by popular culture the idea that all of us are kind of like, you know, in charge of our kids, our kids, you know, in some respects it’s an ownership mentality, they belong to us, but in other ways I think it’s an idea that this came from my body and so therefore it’s kind of mine to direct. And I think, you know, coming up to the poisonous part of things, how that has played out in the last few years has been as a political tool, and I think this particularly comes out of the COVID experience. I think Ron DeSantis, who I don’t know but I actually went to school with for a total of seven years as an undergrad. I recently learned this and at law school he figured out that by sort of, I think, preying on parents’ frustrations and anxieties and then framing it as parents’ rights and empowering parents, he had a ticket, not simply to, you know, power in Florida, but to the presidency, I think the governor of Virginia.
Similar thing If we talk about parents’ rights and we double down on parents, not government, is the way to raise strong young people, we are going to be a great nation. I think that that decision, in many ways what has happened, is to actually put almost all parents in a worse position. Right, there are ways in which government can make all of our lives so much better. You mentioned at the start of the show, right, care leave, sick leave, health care, good schools for most parents Indeed, I would say, all parents we’re better off when we leave things to teachers, when we don’t have to be the ones deciding well, when is exactly the right time to discuss the Holocaust, when should I tell my children about slavery and what aspects of the lessons are appropriate at different ages, when we’re in charge of our children’s health and we have to get on the internet and figure out, well, what is the ideal vaccine schedule, and when should I teach my kids about sex All of these things that there are experts who have spent their lives doing the work for you we now all, as parents, have to do.
And so I think this minimalism notion of what the community owes to kids is bad for kids and it’s bad for parents too, and so I think that’s one of the things that people, when I’m a child rights advocate and people are like oh, you must not like parents. I’m like, no, I’m a parent. I love parents. I wanna make things easier and children’s rights is the way you better the lives of parents.
10:30 – Diana Limongi (Host)
As you were saying all those things about, imagine if we, as parents, have to figure out when to teach our kids about X, y, z. I was just thinking I have enough things to do. I don’t wanna do all of those other things. Yeah, there’s not enough time in the day to figure it all out. And you’re right, I don’t know what the best way to teach my daughter to read is Right.
10:55 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
And you know what. There are like people with PhDs who have been studying this for like decades on what the right approach. And again, I think this is a, unfortunately, a real political divide in terms and it’s part of a broader reckoning we’re having as a country based on are you going to listen to experts and facts and information or are you going to go with your gut? And I think, again, going with your gut is your gut’s often wrong and like scientists have studied that too and I think you know it’s devastating for children. And again I wanna go back to this fact that it makes parents miserable. One of the studies that I write about in the book is a study, international study, looking at parental happiness across countries, and one of the like really shocking findings is in some of the poorest countries in Africa, parents are way happier, way more satisfied. Report. I like being a parent. I enjoy this. It enriches my life Way more than parents in the United States. Parents in the United States are among the least happy and satisfied and yet we have so much more. We have boundless wealth. What’s the story? And I think it’s because our children’s, the Supreme Court has told us your children’s destinies are all of your making Sink or swim, it’s all on you. Any failure, any success comes down to your individual choices and that’s one of the reasons that, like parents you know I live in downtown Philadelphia I mean, we feel constantly like we have to with our five year olds, like, well, how many extracurricular activities are we doing?
Oh, soccer, piano, is that enough? Well, maybe I should start a guitar. And well, public schools aren’t doing languages, so I guess I should sign up for a Spanish tutor. And it’s just like exhausting. I just was talking to my wife like it’s January. It’s like, oh, summer camps we already have to start thinking about it’s like I get it Pots and they’re weightless.
13:05 – Diana Limongi (Host)
And they look like pots and the hours don’t work. Oh, adam, you and I could have 10 conversations about this. Yes, yeah and I think again.
13:13 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
You know, I want to say to particularly liberal parents, who you know get I share the upset when I read about, you know, conservative parents, book bans and it’s like, okay, these conservative parents down in Florida are saying let’s ban library books. I have a parental right not to have my kid exposed to this and I think the natural response of parents on the left is well, I have a right to have my kids learn about the history of America and about racism in America and I’m like I totally feel that I share that sentiment. But let’s talk about children’s rights Like let’s not build like a robust, like leftist parental rights movement to like counter this, because I think again it’s going to leave the kids out, Like all these photo ops that you know Rhonda Sanders has and it has all these kids and they’re silent Like. I want to know high school kids in Florida what do you think AP African-American studies should include? Like?
let’s hear from them, let’s hear about their experiences of racism today and let’s build them into our conversations.
14:23 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Adam, you write and I’m going to quote “if your goal is to foster healthy, successful, productive human beings, the data is unambiguous. Don’t wait and remediate. Childhood is the window of opportunity. Our inattention and inaction are not simply a moral problem, but a social and economic problem as well. End quote.
So at the risk of sounding cynical, I have to ask do we think the goal is to foster healthy and productive human beings? Because we’ve been fighting childhood poverty and childhood hunger since the beginning of time, and you mentioned that there was a time when we actually decided we are doing wrong by our kids and we, you know, at the height of the industrial revolution that you were talking about earlier on the show. So the data is there, but can we just agree that it’s all about political will? Right? Somebody doesn’t want to spend the money, somebody is tied to their donors, right? People are makers. So do we think that it’s the big donor funds that are dictating what passes and doesn’t pass in Congress and that’s what affects our kids? Right, like there’s a reason why so?
15:42 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
yeah. So I think you know a big part of this and hopefully we’ll get to talk about this a little bit later. But I think a big reason why children don’t have rights is because children don’t have rights. So like if you have no voice, no power in the world, how are you gonna get Congress, your state legislature, your mayor to pay attention to you? The answer is like you’re not going to have power and like one of the reasons why so much of the federal budget focused on the oldest Americans. The oldest Americans vote Really, really consistent voting block, and power begets rights, and so I think that’s a big part of the story.
I think the second part of the story is just how so many of us and so many of the things we do are just going through the motions, even when there are better ways of framing our world, building our government. We’re just used to it. We don’t even think about it. We think, well, america is the best country that’s ever been and this is the best time to live, and we can talk about whether that’s actually true for children. I think there are a lot of ways we’ve been backsliding child labor, child poverty, a whole bunch of things but even if that is true, the better question is well, what country could we be? And I think, if you look at evidence across all areas, investing in kids is the best way to create the society we all want to live in, and I think this is something that’s kind of different.
That’s my book, and I think my approach in general is a lot, professor, different from a lot of my friends in the human rights and children’s rights community. I am not here making just simply a moral or natural rights argument, which I think tend to be the arguments in human rights that resonate with people like me but don’t resonate with a lot of other folks, just saying, well, children deserve to be, they’re being mistreated. I think it’s the morally right thing to do. That doesn’t sell with a lot of Americans, and so I am convinced that the better approach is to appeal to self-interest, and I think what all of the data says is hey, you, a person who is childless, thinks that children have. You have nothing to do with children who are angry that your tax bill is so high. I got a solution for you Put your money into childhood interventions. Your tax bill is going to go way down and the society that you want, which is that minimum is going to be much more likely to be achieved. And I would return to one of the examples that you gave in the beginning, which is free childhood lunch.
I think there are a lot of red state folks who are like, well, we can’t have free lunch in public schools because that would reward bad parents. There are lazy parents out there who are poor, who need to get a job and get up, get their lazy asses up in the morning and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, like I did with my kid for two decades, or something like that, and I think again, that’s entirely the wrong frame. The right frame is to think about kids. Kids don’t get to choose their parents, even if it’s true that poor parents choose to be poor, which again we could have a entirely different conversation about, and I could provide evidence that that is just not true. Even if we adopt your frame red state angry person it’s wrong on the face. Kids don’t choose. I have a five-year-old. He doesn’t choose to whether to get a job and go out and make money. So there’s bread and peanut butter in the house. He relies on other people. It just sets us up for failure If kids are hungry in school and kindergarten, they do not learn.
We have robust evidence from around the world that hunger interferes with learning. If that kindergartner goes hungry, he doesn’t learn to read. If that child does not read by third grade, what do you think is going to happen in your state 10 years, 20 years, in the future? The economic costs are huge. So if you are simply concerned about where your tax dollars go, investing in free school lunch is a wonderful way to maximize your return. This is true across the board. You can pick a random set like lead paint abatement, like in rental properties. Every dollar we spend on treating lead paint, many dollars over the course of the lifetime, because lead exposure, heavy metal exposure, is tied to lower IQ, aggressive and sometimes criminal behavior, reduced lifetime earnings. So again, the window of opportunity for social intervention is childhood.
20:47 – Diana Limongi (Host)
We’re not even going to talk about, for example, that a parent can be busting their butt working a full-time job in overtime, and the federal wage hasn’t increased since 2009. It’s still $7.25. So, yeah, parents can be working so so, so hard and it’s still really really difficult.
21:06 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
And I think it’s about the frame, though, and so many of these things. I think we get derailed because of the anger and frustration that a lot of millions of people in this country have towards what they view as bad parents, and I think professors like me have tried to go out and convince them. Poverty isn’t actually a choice, it’s largely a result of structural fact, and that has not worked, and so I just want to derail that argument completely and be like hey, on each of these issues.
If you are thinking about I don’t want to give care leave to new parents, like I don’t think that people choose to be parents and so I’m giving them this gift, if you think about care leave as a gift to parents, like a little, I’m gonna give a little little new outfit for the kid when they’re born. That’s not what paid care leave is. That’s an investment in the future and present of our country that makes us strong America. That’s tax dollars that you’re gonna get back over the lifetime of that kid.
I think about something like one of the many seemingly radical things I talk about in the book, which is I don’t think we should lock up the fit parents of young kids.
Why is that? Well, a lot of people are like, well, that’s unfair, right, that parent made a bad choice and they need to suffer the consequences. But I teach criminal law and I see one of the maybe the most central core principles for centuries has been that we do not punish innocent people. But every time you lock up the parent of a three-year-old, you punish the most innocent person and society bears the intergenerational costs of that incarceration. And that comes not simply from the again many research studies we have on the costs that parental incarceration has, but from conversations that writing this book, that I had with peoples whose parents were locked up when they were three years old, six years old, eight years old, and how they bear the scars from that experience to this day. So again, I think we need a new frame on all of these things. Stop thinking about right these are giveaways to parents or being fair to bad parents. Start thinking about those innocent kids and we’ll make better decisions.
23:36 – Diana Limongi (Host)
That was one of the most powerful things anyone has ever said on the podcast, because I don’t even think I’ve ever thought about it the way you just described it.
23:45 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I really appreciate that and to me, one of the things that’s funny is, in some ways, like it’s so simple and obvious, right, like it’s weird. I used to teach business organizations and in one of the classes we always talked about like holding corporations liable when there’s a chemical spill and some people die. Like actually holding the corporation as an entity criminally liable. And immediately, if I would ask, like what do you guys think about this First hand always every time I taught this course was well, that would be really unfair to the residual claimants, that would be unfair to shareholders. Like when you decide to own a share of this chemical company, like you don’t have any control over that. And like if we punish the corporation, that would really really harm all these shareholders.
And everyone in the class would always be like, oh yeah, done our discussion’s over and I’d be like wait a second, what do you think happens when we lock up a parent? And everyone would be like, oh my gosh, I never thought about them. Like I never. I was like aren’t kids way more innocent than shareholders? At least when you buy shares of a company, like you actually know a lot, you kind of do research, you’re aware of what the business does and all like, how about that two-year-old?
And again, I think it’s so obvious and simple, but no one’s talking about it in that way and I think again that’s one of the reasons that I wrote a popular press book is I think this is so important, so fundamental, that it can’t just be something that law professors talk about at conferences. This has to be something that is part of a national conversation with all of us.
25:32 – Diana Limongi (Host)
And I do love that your book doesn’t only have statistics and history right. It has, like, stories of real people that are affected by all of these topics.
25:48 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
And that was a hard one for me because I’m a law professor and I deal in statistics, I deal in big research studies and my first book I kind of relied on big views about the criminal justice system and I looked at existing cases of wrongful convictions and in this one my editor and I decided I wanna go around and talk to kids.
I wanna talk to people reflecting on their lives and this was honestly the hardest part of the book because it required talking to people, often about the worst moment in their lives, and this is something where I think I’m a very sensitive person and I would feel myself tearing up listening to someone talk about the day that their parents disappeared and they were taken to an orphanage with their brother at age like six. That’s just, it’s just devastating. I mean talking to a young man who ends up going to prison, getting life without the possibility of parole when he was a teen and what that experience was like. But I do think that the stories often help us understand what’s at stake in these studies. The studies can feel.
27:04 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Yeah, it provides the human, the human, yeah exactly. Absolutely. And, adam, what made you decide to focus on children’s rights?
27:14 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
That’s a great question. This is a project that comes from my childhood. Like I was thinking about children’s rights as a kid and I talking to other children’s rights advocates. That’s actually not so unusual, I think. What’s a little bit unusual was I actually?
I think a lot of people come to it because of tragedies in their life or like they had abusive parents or things like that. I came to it actually because I think I won the lottery on parents. We didn’t have a lot of money but I had two supportive, loving parents who treated me as a full human being from day one. And I think that experience of being listened to, talked to as if, like I, had opinions and ideas that ought to be listened to and respected, meant that when I went out into the world, I saw all of this injustice and mistreatment to kids everywhere I looked, and I then, when I started going to public school, I started experiencing censorship, experiencing collective punishment, all of these kind of weird things that we allow to happen to kids because we see them as second class citizens, and I think that really, you know, propelled me to law school. It certainly shaped the kind of questions that I was concerned with and then, you know, I think I had this epiphany moment, doing research as a law professor, in which I think this passion for bettering the lives of children, suddenly, actually it occurred to me that actually this was the best way to create the world that we all wanted to live in.
Indeed, right, prioritizing the interests of children might be the answer to what the purpose of law ought to be.
You know, my whole life as a law professor and as a student I’ve read all of these theories, right, that the purpose of law is to keep us safe or to produce economic efficiency, or to look out for the least well off. And it began to dawn on me that actually the best answer to that might be to prioritize kids, that that might lead not to the best policy for children but the best policy for a nation. And I think it was that moment, when you know all of these experiences over a lifetime, all of this research that I’d done and papers that have been all sort of coalescent to sort of this more grand theory about what the proper direction ought to be for the United States, and I think since the book has come out, I’ve really shifted into trying to realize changes actually at the political level, at the local, state and national level, and I am optimistic. You know, I think there are some people who are pessimistic. The more I talk to activists around the country, the more hope I have that real change is possible.
30:24 – Diana Limongi (Host)
I don’t know. You started with the poisonous and now you’re going to the hope.
30:28 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
You’re gonna see, it’s the full narrative arc in this podcast.
30:32 – Diana Limongi (Host)
I see that and I like it. You’re getting ahead, you’re throwing the hope in there, but hold on to the whole.
30:37 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
All right, we’ll return to that.
30:39 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Yes, so okay, your book is divided into a few sections, so the first two are the right to attachment, early childhood, the right to investment, late childhood, the right to community early adolescence, the right to be a kid, late adolescence, the right to be heard on the cusp of adulthood, the right to a fresh start.
30:59 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
31:01 – Diana Limongi (Host)
I think often and I work in early childhood and early learning so I will say that I feel like a lot of emphasis is placed often on the early years. So I wanna hone in for this conversation on kind of the later years right, kind of the early adolescence that I feel like we don’t talk about. I have a 12 year old. I feel like everything is like zero to five and then maybe school age, but then the conversations kind of drop right as our kids get older.
So let’s talk about let’s start with late childhood the right to them.
31:41 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
So I think you know, to me this goes back to a very, I think, american idea, which is that kids belong to their parents, and I think we see this, as I said, in sort of popular culture. I think we see this in from coming from elite institutions. But I think it is really, really damaging, and what I argue for is a right to community, a way to see you know children not as belonging to their parents, but as people who ought to have a sense of belonging within the community, and what that, I think, really means is making sure that kids have access to all of the wonderful progress we’ve made over hundreds and thousands of years when it comes to medical care, when it comes to information, science, history of who we are as a people, when it comes to community engagement with other human beings, friends and family members, and so I think you know this is not at all to push parents out of the picture. I think parents and other primary caregivers are almost always the most important people in their children’s lives. It’s just to ensure that kids also are part of the community in which, as soon as they reach that 18 adult, they’re going to be part of it. It’s inevitable Every child is going to be part of it, and so it’s important for them to have access to that enrichment throughout their lives. Now, I think you know you mentioned some of the other sort of later developmental rights. You know, I think the next right that I kind of think about is this right to be a kid, and this comes kind of thinking about early adolescence. You know, certainly your 12 year old is on this, at this sort of entry point.
And I think what I focus on in this chapter is how so often we are inconsistent with how we treat people at different ages. Right, it’s like, you know, you’ve just had your bar mitzvah, you’re a man, and then like, okay, get in the car, get in the car into the minivan and we’re going to drive you home at young man and you have homework to do and all this stuff, like these weird things that we have, these like moments of like where, okay, you know, you can be locked up for the rest of your life, but you can’t buy a can of spray at a store. Oh, you can get a gun and go down to the range, but you can’t ride this, like ride at the amusement park. Again, it’s like crazy, our inconsistency, and what I also I think is really problematic is how often we seem to infantilize children in moments where they actually could really use and benefit from independence. And here I’m thinking about helicopter parenting, the idea that I can’t let my kid ride over to their friend’s house because it’s possible that there might be a child abduction. That you know that is really harmful kids. If we look at the data used to roam, I mean, certainly in my generation, you know I went miles away. You know, on my bike, as a 12 year old, ride miles away, I go to my friend’s houses and that was really really good for me. It’s still good for kids. The world is not way more dangerous than it was when I was a little kid in the 80s. It’s just not what’s changed as people’s perceptions of the danger and, I think, the notion that parents have to be these doctors constantly intervening at every area. So I think on the flip side, we’re also really tend to treat children as adults in areas where really they’re not at all culpable like adults and much more vulnerable to that treatment. And so I think that’s really.
I think about the criminal justice system and I think one of the things I know that that is a theme with this podcast and I want to highlight is is how African American children face a particularly perilous situation here because of many different studies. So one of the studies that I mentioned in the book and I also teach in my course the rights of children looks at the way the study was designed. Was they, the experimenters, describe the crime and then they showed people pictures of the perpetrator All boys and what they varied was how old the person was in the picture and what their race was. And they asked people to identify how old the kid in the picture was. Who described the story and what they found was white children actually estimated to be a little bit younger than the person in the photo. Black children on average estimated to be about four years older than they actually were.
And if you think about the implications of that at the moment of police responding to a 911 call and seeing a 12 year old assuming right, that 12 year old who’s actually holding right like a toy gun, seeing that as no, that’s a 17 year old, thinking about prosecutors how they approach right, clee bargains, all this stuff, thinking about sentencing this is one of the reasons I think that you know, we see such disparate outcomes right now for young boys, and it going back to what you talked about with the school to prison pipeline. We also know that this happens with African American girls, where things that white 12 or 13 year old girls do, which is seen as adolescent behavior right. So it’s like you’re talking back to the teacher. Okay, you’re sassing, whatever the thing is. The same activity is seen as threatening the teacher as something that we need to call the school resource officer in about or the police, and as soon as you’re in the system, we know from the data it’s over.
37:55 – Diana Limongi (Host)
When you said, for example, the right to community and the right to be a kid, I thought about all the investments that we’re not doing right. So, for example, often in my own community, often I see that there’s no park structure, there’s no after school, there’s no free activity, there’s no free programs for kids in that age of you know, getting out of elementary school into middle school. The resources it seems that the first things to get cut our public education and resources for children, which and extracurriculars.
38:31 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I mean, my kids go to a public school in Philadelphia. We’re one of the only schools that has a library. They’re like eight schools of any, like high school, anything that has and that’s only because of the parents Association like went out and like it did all this stuff. And you know my wife works in these, takes time from her job and goes and works at the library. And you know, I think about one of the most wonderful things that we have, which is this dance exchange, where the kids that these dance are professional dancers, come in and teach all of the I think they’re third, fourth, maybe fifth graders dance. You know, again, that takes money, that takes investment and it is one of the best things If you want to.
You know, again, treat some of the problems, which is like the early predictors of crime. It’s like sports activities and mentorships. Doing all of this stuff and again, like that, as you suggest, is the first thing cut out of the budget and sometimes these things, particularly for adolescents, are cut because it’s seen as a potential source of violence here in Philadelphia. It’s like we should actually install some company comes along is like we should install because of graffiti and gang activity. We should install special high pitched frequency vermin things that that scare away. Only only adolescents can hear. This really happened.
40:04 – Diana Limongi (Host)
I’m not scared. You joke, I am not.
40:06 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I am not. We should put this in public parks and turn it on in the in the twilight hours to keep away kids out of public spaces. Curfews same idea. We should just keep kids off. We should criminalize being out in public. We should get rid of parks because, you know, in one park there was a shooting, and so we should get rid of places that young people might congregate as opposed to. We should do this in order to like make spaces that are safe and good for kids, like put our efforts into so in the book you discuss how young high schoolers have been activists in different fields and really ignited to make change.
40:44 – Diana Limongi (Host)
And one of the reasons I love this with young people is that I feel like when you’re that age, if you remember, I remember you’re fearless, right, you’re fearless and you have this idea of like, you have kind of this rebellious spirit that nothing can stop you and that you know. So I feel like our young people are leading the way. They’re not jaded, they haven’t become cynical yet. They stand for their values. They’re not criminalizing, philosophizing, working. Why not let them vote and participate in, in civic life so that they can have a voice in the rights that we’ve been talking about? So, so where do we go from here? And, by the way, everybody I think everybody should really pick up Adam’s book. It is wonderful, the stories are, everything is so enlightening. So tell us where we go from here.
41:31 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
Yeah, so. So to the bookstore first. It’s available. America Minor Revolution is available everywhere books are sold and there’s an audio book version read by yours truly. If you’ve enjoyed my nice, nice voice in this podcast, please pick up a copy.
But I think after that, where we should go is perhaps starting with empowerment rights. I have been, like you, so inspired by the young activists, the young climate activists, the black lives matter activists, the parkland kids and others who have come to protest gun violence in schools and around this country, and what I am arguing for is to ask those young people to think about, instead of marching to try to get adults to change things that they have failed to change for decades, marching for power, marching for a vote so that you can actually vote out those members of Congress who refuse to enact sensible gun control measures. Voting out members of the Pennsylvania legislature who failed to fund public schools in downtown Philadelphia. I think this is where we’re going to. When we’re going to see right change on all of these other really important areas of children’s rights is when children have real power in the world, and I think that’s voting power.
I think that’s the right to run for office, I think that’s the right to serve on school boards. I think that’s the right to sit on corporate boards and have a say in our most important conversations that we’re having as a country, and I think that’s really when we’re going to see like the budgets shift to early childhood spending. I think that’s when we’re going to see movement on childcare leave and all these things is when kids have a voice. The cool thing is that other nations around the world have already lowered their voting age to 16. And I think it’s now seven municipalities in the United States have done the same for local elections, so I think this is a change that we’re going to see in our lifetime.
43:54 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Okay and I could talk to you for like another full hour but we can’t, sadly, so I’m gonna bring you back on at some point to talk about some other fascinating topic. So I always end the podcast asking my guests what keeps you hopeful. So I love that you brought you kind of sprinkled that in earlier.
44:13 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
It was a teaser.
44:15 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Yeah, what keeps you hopeful in this, in this time? We’re living in 2023.
44:21 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
So I think it’s, it’s young people, and I think that was one of the things that actually kept me going in this project. It was, you know, I wrote this when I had, during the pandemic, with two kids at home on you know, zoom first grade, and I felt despairing a lot of the time. I felt like, oh my gosh, like the world is ending. There’s no hope. We mistreat children every we’re going backwards on all of these things that I care about.
Mental health of kids is in crisis and I would have a conversation with you know, like some random 11 year old, and I talked to him about like voting rights and he would just say something like profound. I remember this one kid I talked to. He said to me yeah, you know, I have thought about extending voting rights to kids and I was thinking about is my next door neighbors are in their 80s, they’re two of them and in the, you know, husband, wife, they get two votes. My family, you know, I’m like, you know, 11, my sisters a and our family also has two votes, but we have four people. That doesn’t make any sense to me and I was like oh my gosh, that’s so true, right, you get it.
And this young person was passionate about it. Like after this conversation, he’s like, yeah, you know, I want to have more of a say in my school, and I think it was these conversations that just gives me hope of what. Seeing what kids are capable of, seeing their passion and energy, I think so many of things that desperately need to change can change with this next generation, and so that’s that’s what leaves me both hopeful and excited.
46:08 – Diana Limongi (Host)
I love that. Yeah, they, you know they’re not, they haven’t been jaded and like thrown into this like grayish area. They’re like this is wrong, this is right. We do the right thing.
46:20 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
And they’re, you know. The cool thing is their, their risk taker, like we. A lot of times, young people are maligned for taking risks right, but risk taking can be an optimal strategy, particularly in a moment like this, when you’re in a period of rapid change. We are facing rapid change on climate. We’re facing rapid change when it comes to technology.
AI, rapid change in terms of social movements, and you know what standing still can be the the riskiest war strategy to pursue, and one of the things I love about kids is just how they’re more open to new experiences, rethinking things, trying new things, and I think that that fills me with great hope.
47:07 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Thank you so much for joining me. This was a great conversation. I thoroughly enjoy all the arguments you make in your book and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy. And I’m going to say I love your voice, but I also I love to go into college and like highlighting. So like I highlighted a whole bunch of things, so get out your highlighter.
47:27 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I’m I love to write in books also.
47:31 – Diana Limongi (Host)
The eternal student in me.
47:34 – Adam Benforado (Guest)
I was an absolute pleasure and I really look forward to our next conversation.
47:38 – Diana Limongi (Host)
Yes, thank you, adam. Everyone make sure to pick up a copy of Adam’s book. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Be sure to subscribe, leave a review, share this episode with your friends and follow us on Instagram, if you haven’t. Parenting and politics. And until next time, don’t forget hope is our superpower. Bye.