Monday, January 18, 2010

On Being "Childish"

Have you ever heard someone be accused of being "childish", or been accused of that yourself?  You probably have, because that's an extremely common insult.  It's used when you have political opinions that other people disagree with (anarchy, for instance, is incredibly childish!), it's used when you dare to defy authority and stand up for yourself (don't be childish!  Just do it!), it's used when someone expresses their emotions openly (it's childish of you to be angry/hurt/upset!). 

This is so insulting to so many people, on so many levels!

When people use that word, when they say "childish", what they mean is that anything a child comes up with, any thought, opinion, emotion, is absolutely worthless and discard-able.  To be a child is to have nothing of worth to show for yourself.  It's an expression of ageism at it's very worst!

So when someone tells me that I'm being childish, they're not only insulting children everywhere, they're also telling me that my opinions are worthless.  That they're short-sighted, uninformed, unimportant, and simply not worth paying any attention to.

I think that's one of the things that makes me the absolute angriest when someone says it to me.  And I've heard it WAY more often than I'd like!

I've heard that the most marginalized members of society are the young and the old, and I don't have much trouble believing that.  Ageism and disrespect are so very common, that I find it seriously discouraging sometimes.



  1. I also wonder when someone is called a "baby", why it is meant as an insult?

  2. Idzie, I see this as part of our culture of "control." It's about shaming people into obedience. Anarchy is the exact opposite of childishness because it means, literally, "no rulers." It's a way of life for people who *want* to think for themselves, who *want* to make their own choices, and who want to be responsible for themselves. Those who call you childish are reacting from a place of fear of living freely.

  3. Whoa. Never turned it around like that. I've always seen the term as an insult to the person it's being said to, but never realized just how insulting it is to children. I don't know why I never connected it like that!

    Also loved Cheryl's comments. I agree; fear is nearly always the root of negativity, is it not?

  4. Awesome post!

    I'm working in a long term care facility for people with dementia, and that's one thing that happens a LOT with the elderly, regardless of the stage of their dementia. The literature calls it "infantilization," and one text I was reading talked about a care giver saying to another, "let's get the potty line over with"

    So the connection I see between this and your post is that children are on the lowest rung of our hierarchical ladder of status/power. The elderly are barely one rung above, probably because they once led useful lives, whereas children's "usefulness" to society is still in the future.

    I wonder if calling someone "childish" as a way to disagree is an attempt to take away that person's power?

  5. That's so true, Idzie. True and sad.

  6. great post! i have to say, alison made a great point, about it being an attempt to take away a person's a way to invalidate him or her. it's similar to the rude comment "you're acting like a girl" thrown at boys. like what's wrong with girls?! what is that supposed to mean?! "you're acting like a baby/child" means what exactly...?!

    i think children are seen as stupid, maybe due to their so-called inexperience, therefore nothing they say can really be valid. but children have such great insights sometimes! and they live with a certain unguarded honesty that is so refreshing!

    i also have to agree, fear is at the root of most negativity...

  7. Yep, exactly. I'd love to see that word stricken from the English language.

  8. You are UNBELIVABLE correct. I hate when people use words like "childish" and "retard" as insults. Great post, keep it up.


  9. Brilliant post - I'll be honest, I hadn't thought of making that connection either.

    Would you mind if I republish this on my blog? I'll link to this post and your blog as well :)

  10. @Heart Rockin Mama: I wonder that as well...

    @Cheryl: LOVE your comment, and totally agree!

    @Alison: Thank you! It really seems like that... That both the young and old are treated badly, yet the old get marginally more respect since they were once useful! So sad... And also, I hadn't thought of it that way, but I totally think you're right: that calling someone childish is an attempt to take away their power.

    @Colleen: It really is sad...

    @Sara: Thanks! :-) Yes, I agree, Alison made a really good point there! I was only focusing on the "childish" insult, but comments are showing me that there are a whole group of insults that, well, should never have been turned into insults! You can be childish, a baby, a girl... Ageism AND sexism. How wonderful!/sarcasm Anyway, thanks for the comment. :-)

    @Linda: Me too!

    @Margy: Thanks! :-) "Retard" is another horrible one, for sure...

    @SoulRiser: Thank you! :-) I wouldn't mind at all, actually I'm flattered that you want to, so go ahead! :-)

  11. a very awesome post Idzie. I know people everywhere, young and old, can relate to this with much resentment of being called "childish" for sharing their opinions and thoughts... I certainly can.


  12. Thank you, I had never thought that it was a general insult to children.

    Although I understand the sentiment, that we ought to mature and not remain as children, I agree with you that when we are told that we are being childish we are being dismissed.

    It reflects that need to feel superior to another.

  13. Whoa, I never thought of it that way... What you are saying is so true! The "mature" person is suppose to be cool, rational, and sticks to the status quo. Exactly how men are suppose to act in this culture. I assume you could exchange "childish" with the insult of being a "girl" in many instances.

  14. Cheyenne - your comment reminds me of the insult given to boys/men "You throw like a girl" and while I do throw badly - I'm sure many other girls are great at throwing things.

    And why, considering how recently a child was an unencumbered Spirit, are children seen as so lacking in any wisdom. When my youngest was 2 he said to me that "God is gold because gold is precious and so is God." How can that statement be seen as anything less than Spirit knowing truth?!?

  15. So true, good thinking! So glad I'm an unschooler, no marginalised children (or old people) here.

  16. Found you via Mon... Great post!

    I agree that children are as a matter of course disrespected in our society. And I think the term is often used to mean, "Quit complicating things by being true to yourself and get in line." Which is, sadly, how we often treat children or were treated when we were children. You Don't Matter, But Following the Rules Does.

    I also think it's an interesting point you make about the elderly getting more respect than children because they were once useful. It reminds me of two great posts I read about feminism and childrens' rights... which both pointed out that children are the only oppressed people who, as a matter of course, have the ability to become a member of the oppressing class (grown-ups). And that by affording our children the rights they deserve, right now, as children, we have an opportunity to influence the way they will treat oppressed people when they are grown-up.

    Here are the posts:

    I am the mom of two young boys... We are an unschooling family... we are finding our way, one day at a time, out of the dominator mentality.


    I'm still quite a young person and I hate how I'm always discriminized for being young on stupid things like maturity. I'm pretty mature, but no i'm treated like a kid with no say in anything.

  18. When I was a child and teenager I hated being young. Mostly because nobody would take your ideas seriously and respect you. So I acted older than I did. People always thought I was at least 10 years older than I was.

    I'm now 22. After playing the adult game, I've realised there's nothing worth winning in it. No quantity of money respect or power can make up for losing your childish imagination and fun. That's what every adult really wants... to be free and childish again. Your inner world and zest for life is the most precious thing in the world.

    If someone calls me childish, I'll now take it as a compliment.

  19. I've noticed people use this as a way to dismiss an opinion they find uncomfortable, or when they're told that they're wrong about something. There's nothing sillier than pouting and throwing the "You're rude and childish!" because you've been told you're wrong about a thing. O the "You seem very young!" thing, if, say, you dare to disagree about something. Right. Because I don't agree with you, I'm childish/immature/have no life experience... seems to me that the accuser is the one who needs life experience, if they can't handle being wrong, or not forcing their own -- often really erroneous -- opinion on someone else. But what do I know, I'm pretty childish.

    TL;dr: Maaan I so agree with this article I can't even. :D