Five years ago today, Sandy Hook happened.
Several children who should be navigating middle school right now instead had their short lives come to an abrupt and tragic end because some shithead came into their classroom and opened fire on them for some reason.
In the above post on the day it happened, I lamented this loss of life, wondering, as I said, what they could have ever done to anybody. After all, at their age, one is new to the world and still figuring things out and likely hasn’t gotten to the point of causing any deep and deliberate harm to others like those older have. Not that it’s ever okay to kill anyone, of course, but with kids, it’s hard to see any rationale for it. An adult might have deliberately ruined your career or betrayed you in some severe way or what have you. Again, not that the killing is okay, but you can see how one so distraught might decide it’s the thing to do. With kids, they aren’t capable of doing anywhere near the damage to others that adults are.
After all, children are innocent.
And that is what the innocence of children actually is. Innocence is the opposite of guilt. It refers to what the children themselves have or have not done, and how good or evil their intentions. This varies by child, as children are individuals, and there’s no specific point where one goes from “childhood innocence” to “adult asshole” as it’s a gradual progression depending on one’s specific life and circumstances and experiences. But any innocence refers to the individual’s intentions and actions.
As such, it has nothing to do with something being done to said innocent child, nor does it have anything to do with said innocent child’s knowledge of the world.
On that first point, that’s why it’s just disgusting to, when a child has been molested or otherwise victimized in some way, say the child has “lost their innocence” or something like that. Uh, no, the child is still innocent, as they did not commit any heinous act but were rather the victim of one. I mean, it’s bad enough that so often child abuse victims get made to feel guilty in some way for what happened, but to then say that their childhood is now somehow gone is downright vile. Why, because they are now very aware of evil in the world? Which brings me to…
In youth rights circles, we often dismiss the very notion of childhood innocence as being simply children’s ignorance that adults find pleasing or charming. Not that we don’t have reason to, as to far too many people that’s exactly what it is. Where the innocence of a child is about not the child’s intentions or actions but how much the child knows. Perhaps this knowledge that somehow kills innocence is an awareness of the world being a cruel place, of people being dicks to each other, that there is suffering in the world. Often, however, this innocence-destroying knowledge might be something about sex. In other words, you could take this to mean a child’s innocence is equally destroyed by being a victim of sexual abuse and by simply knowing what sex is. Which is, again, downright vile.
This is silly, as neither of these things actually destroys one’s innocence. So why then do so many people think they do?
Their twisted idea of childhood innocence comes down to children fitting some proper definition of childhood rather than an actual lack of culpability. If a child knows too much or has experienced too much, then they’re not correctly being a child. And rather than admitting or acknowledging this is about their own views of childhood, they pretend it’s something inherent to the child, that a lack of this false idea of innocence means there’s something wrong with the child rather than with the adult’s definition or expectation.
There are other, less problematic ways the term childhood innocence gets used. Some refer to it as seeing the world as new and beautiful, as being hopeful. But while those are good, that’s not exactly innocence. It’s more like optimism. And that’s what might get diminished as some unpleasant truths get learned over time, as the optimistic view of life slips away as reality sets in. But even so, that does not make the child guilty of anything. Other than of no longer being the optimistic hopeful archetype of a child that the adults want.
Even with this clarified definition of childhood innocence, it might seem strange that a youth rights supporter is talking about differences between children and adults like this. Of course, it only seems strange if you buy into the common misconception that youth rights means thinking children and adults are the same. The issue is in what the differences mean as far as place in society, and our society grossly misunderstands and exaggerates this meaning. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that children are newer to the world and still figuring things out. And, though one must be careful as it can be a slippery slope into objectification, acknowledging they most likely haven’t done anything all that bad, such that it is especially horrifying when they are senselessly murdered. Like the ones five years ago in Newtown, CT. And far too many others.