In Defense of Favoritism
“But Dad, that’s not fair! Why does Keaton get to kill zombies, and I can’t?”
“Well, because you’re too young to kill zombies. Your cousin Keaton is older than you, so that’s why he can do it. You’ll get nightmares.”
“That’s sooo not fair!”
“Next year, after your birthday, I’ll let you kill zombies.”
It’s not exactly Little House on the Prairie,but this is a real conversation between my 8-year-old son and me. Age-ratings on zombie-killing video games are just one of modern life’s great injustices, according to my son.
Every parent has heard the f-word, fairness, intoned ad nauseam by their negotiating kids. My own son was an eloquent voice for egalitarianism, even before he could tie his shoes or tell time. Of course, it’s not exactly universal equality that he and other kids are lobbying for, but something much more self-interested.
Kids learn early on that an honest declaration of “I’m not getting what I want” holds little persuasion for parents. So they quickly figure out how to mask their egocentric frustrations with the language of fairness. An appeal to an objective standard of fairness will at least buy some bargaining time for further negotiations. This is not entirely duplicitous on the part of the child, who is often legitimately confused and cannot easily distinguish his private sufferings from larger and clearer social imbalances.