Kids These Days: The Ethics of Having Children
When Juror #3 in 12 Angry Men goes on his rant about disrespectful children, he says he used to call his father “Sir” and asks the question, “Do you ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?” As we see this man as the last remaining guilty vote, something deeper comes into play: It is his relationship with his own son that has influenced his thinking. At the end of the long deliberations, he takes the picture of his boy and tears it angrily, then holds it with regret and ends in tears, whispering: “Not guilty. Not guilty.” It is a tender gesture, then, as Juror #8 helps him put on his jacket. Broken, sad, he has at least done the right thing for the accused boy. He is wrong in his assessment of kids, however. As much as at any time in history, the young hold an important place in world and need to be applauded and honored for their contributions.
An inclination exists to suppose the current state of affairs among the young is in decline. Kate Tempest, a British spoken word artist, performed in Dallas several years ago and then took questions. One brave soul suggested that yes, while she at 29 years old seemed capable and educated and insightful, most people her age were not. She took him to task: “You’re wrong. Young people these days have more to deal with than any other generation. They have more challenges, more fear, but they’re also pushing back more and doing more than anyone else ever has.” It was an electrifying—and surprising–response. Rather than setting herself apart, she put herself in the middle of the controversy.
Kate Tempest might seem unique, but she has outstanding fellow travelers. Recently, a group of middle school girls in Dallas produced a coloring book for immigrants that lists information for 30 area non-profits as well as works from local poets. According to Janet Morrison-Lane, the group’s mentor, “So many people miss out on what teenagers have to offer, so for them to be able to put out something into our city that was solely designed by them is amazing” (qtd. in Manuel). These girls, aged thirteen to fifteen, represent diverse backgrounds. While none is an immigrant herself, some of their parents are. Each brought specific skills to the project with the hope of helping someone else in need.
The counterargument to the value of kids could take many forms. Perhaps the most extreme would be not having children at all. This is a choice in 2019, whereas a hundred years ago it was not. This passage articulates the difficulties of making this choice:
Decision making is deeply inﬂuenced by an individual’s emotions, attachments, personal habits, and society’s customs and norms. These are not minor psychological inﬂuences that might be eliminated by adopting a more “rational” decision-making procedure. These are fundamental facts about human nature, and hence constitutive of us as human beings and, by extension, moral agents. An acceptable and useful ethical theory must take account of these realities and must not substitute a simple, mechanical decision-making procedure for the rich – if sometimes messy – psychological complexity of real human agency. (Cook 1617)
Through the millennia, people have sometimes wanted children, often had them regardless of wanting them, and had many reasons for their choice: The deep biological urge to procreate versus a potential grandmother’s begging, for example. Although it is not new, a current term, “antinatalism,” has been applied to the movement. This group suggests that life if not worth the pain, that bringing children into the world is a cruel act. One twenty-something plans to sue his parents for birthing him without his consent: “Why should I suffer? Why must I be stuck in traffic? Why must I work? Why must I face wars? Why must I feel pain or depression? Why should I do anything when I don’t want to? Many questions. One answer…Someone had you for their ‘pleasure'” (Papazoglou). In other words, give me money for being.
When we think of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” discussion, the reference has always been to the question of continuing life rather than ending it. Now, the idea of not even beginning life has come into the mix: Is life worth living? The answer is a resounding yes. The universe is slated for destruction—or at least entropy, but perhaps not for eons, billions upon billions of years. Until that time, life will remain a struggle. However, it may be difficult by design. While humans will always exist with various states of need and suffering, others will enter the world with a willingness to help them. Few people sue their parents; many more honor them and relish life. We cannot imagine, easily, what non-existence might be. We can, however, remember Frank Capra’s classic film It’s a Wonderful Life and understand that our choices change the world around us. Kids these days, or any days? Yes, we will need them forever; it is the right thing to do.
Cook, Thomas, et al. “Respect for Patient Autonomy as a Medical Virtue.” Cardiology in the Young, vol.
25, no. 8, Dec. 2015, pp. 1615–1620. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1017/S1047951115002097.
Manuel, Obed. “These Dallas Kids Designed a Coloring Guidebook for Immigrants, Refugees New to the City.” Dallas News, 8 Oct. 2019, www.dallasnews.com/news/immigration/2019/10/08/dallas-kids-designed-coloring-guidebook-immigrants-refugees-new-city/.
Murphy, Timothy F. “What Justifies a Future with Humans in It?” Bioethics, vol. 30, no. 9, Nov. 2016, pp. 751–758. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/bioe.12290.
Papazoglou, Alexis. “Is It Cruel to Have Kids in the Era of Climate Change?” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/SKTHPN185004602/OVIC?u=txshracd2500&sid=OVIC&xid=6a3f2c8a. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.
Tempest, Kate. Lecture. Dallas Museum of Art, 13 May 2016.
Lumet, Sidney. 12 Angry Men. Amazon, MGM Home Entertainment, 2008, www.amazon.com/12-Angry-Men-Henry-Fonda/dp/B07JDJC19M/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3C75Q2JQQQY64&keywords=12%2Bangry%2Bmen&qid=1570823925&sprefix=12%2Ban%2Caps%2C457&sr=8-2.