Children as actors in their own lives

When we first enrolled our girls in SVS, I thought the emphasis on having both parents and kids sign things was a little silly or forced. The kids were nervous, not about going to SVS, but how they should sign. Was the first name and last name necessary? To be a real signature does it have to be in cursive? How do you do upper case letters in cursive? I thought of movies I had watched growing up, where an “Indian” has to sign some white man’s document by putting his X at the bottom.

But this summer, when the camps came to an end and we had to sign this year’s SVS forms, it felt refreshing. The summer was full of various camps, and I was amazed by the lack of kid involvement in the business of their own summers. As parents, we had to fill out reams of forms, liability disclaimers, sun screen permissions, photo permissions, emergency contact and behavioral expectations forms. I was amazed the kids did not have to sign the behavioral expectations forms. But even those were ultimately aimed at the parents not the children. It was a set up, so that the parents knew that if the camp called and said little Johnny was not behaving, the parents understood that they would have to pick Johnny up immediately and that he would not be allowed to return.

Not a single one of the forms required the involvement of the kids themselves. There were documents to be completed indicating who could meet the kids at the bus. I had to show ID, which on some level I appreciate, but the staffer could have also just turned to either of my kids and say, “Is this the person you expected to meet you?” In many ways it felt more like I was accepting a delivery from UPS, than I was reuniting with my increasingly independent children. That camp also required extra documents to be filled out so that my 15 and 12 year old could walk the 1/4 mile from the camp bus stop back to our home without me meeting the bus in person.

I understand all the security and liability issues driving this process, but the end product contributes to the sense that the children do not really participate in their own lives. They are not subjects in their own world, they are simply packages being transported from one jurisdiction to the next. They are no more in control of their own existence than the poor “Indian” in the movie duped into putting his X on the document that gave his ancestral home lands to wily railroad representatives.

So, it is with renewed appreciation that our family returns to the SVS routine, where the kids own their time, their education and their signatures.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.