Justice

Big Questions

Justice

Q My brother gets away with doing things for which I get punished. Is this fair?

Treating every child the same is often the most just way. But when children have different needs, treating them the same way can be unjust. A good bike rider, for example, may be allowed to bike on the street, but not a learner. A street-smart child may be allowed to go to the park alone, but another child of the same age may be disciplined for doing that. It is important to understand the reason for the different treatment. Have you asked your parents to explain?

All children are created and called by God to develop their gifts and use them to help others. Helping children do that is the biblical test for justice, not same treatment or obeying specific rules.

For adults this question reflects two important points. First, from an early age children are attuned to the norm of justice. Research shows that we often underestimate the ability of even young children to discern what is just, beyond following rules. It also shows that children who learn about their own rights and respect the rights of others show more respect for authority and more concern about others. I have seen children lead a whole community to greater justice.

Second, home and school are important places to learn when treating children the same way is just and when differences need to lead to different treatment. Helping children develop their built-in justice radar will equip them to deal with this concept, which lies at the core of major social issues and building a more just society. 

About the Author

Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.
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