Mother: „Our daughters are almost 2.5 years and 7 months. I notice that I cannot avoid making a distinction when it comes to rules. For example, our oldest is not allowed to throw food on the floor, while the youngest does almost nothing else. This is not naughty, I explain to the oldest, because the baby can’t do anything about it yet. Many of these necessary distinctions will fade as they get older and have roughly the same skills. Do I still have to make a distinction between rules? For example, around screen time, pocket money, curfew? Is this age discrimination still desirable and defensible? It goes against my sense of fair treatment.”
Take into account what children can overlook
Bass Delivery: “Age-related rules are not based on arbitrary distinctions, but are related to various psychological developmental tasks. Later, when children get older, we take into account what they can oversee. We don’t want to burden them with decisions they can’t yet judge, such as pierced ears when they are 7 years old, or opting for a dog and walking it daily when they are 8. No matter how much they beg for something; children expect parents to keep an eye on that distinction.
“The amount of pocket money is also age-related. One child is allowed to go to the cinema independently, the other is not. It also remains such a beautiful promise: when you are that old, you can too.
“In addition, there is also the common daily rhythm that children have to follow regardless of the personal getting up to go to school at the same time.
“One day your rules will no longer be necessary, but what will never change for your children is their place in the children’s row. The eldest will always remain the oldest and will often continue to feel the wisest. In that sense, the age difference does not fade.”
Trade to the individual differences
Stijn Sieckelinck: “This question speaks of an eye for social inequality, but it doesn’t help to apply that principle to the microcosm of the family. The assumption that ‘fair treatment equals equal treatment’ does not always hold true in family situations. As parents you sometimes look at the individual differences and act accordingly. You may treat children differently in the same situations. One is allergic, so something is not allowed that the other is allowed. The other needs more sleep, so must be home earlier.
“For children, the difference in treatment can be very frustrating. Once they start talking, you’ll hear ‘That’s not fair!’ And that is good. Being allowed to express that feeling prevents them from going into the rest of life with a pressing sense of injustice. A child who is allowed to show anger has less tendency later on to fly at someone’s throat, because he knows how to put words to his feelings. But just because so-called unfairness can be exposed does not mean that it is always negotiable.
“That caring eye for the diverse needs of children is a very different frame from the inequality frame. I think ‘age discrimination’ is too strong a word in this context and unnecessarily exaggerates. I wouldn’t use it with your kids around, because you will definitely get that in return!”