Culture Teaches Children Justice is Getting Whatever You Want

Photo courtesy of Flickr user J-Zimmerman
Photo courtesy of Flickr user J-Zimmerman

A few weeks ago we had a REALLY bad day with a group of children in our after-school program so nobody was rewarded at the end with a piece of candy.

This resulted in a huge rebellion with a number of students telling me that they would never come back to the program again [1]

The surprising thing is these kids admitted to doing the wrong thing, but still viewed my not rewarding them as a huge injustice [2].

Without even meaning too, these children illustrated our cultures definition of Justice: Getting whatever you want even if you don’t deserve it


This justice finds many different sources, but one of the clearest is television or movies.

The 100 is a television program launched in 2013 about a group of prisoners sent from a spaceship that is losing oxygen to the earth as an experiment to see if it was inhabitable.

Almost immediately this new land becomes a contrast to the lack of freedom on their spaceship.  This is powerfully illustrated in a scene during episode two where they all stand and chant “whatever we want” at the top of their lungs [3].

While our culture doesn’t scream “whatever we want” to children, it’s voice is clearly heard.

  1. Through authority figures (parents, family, teachers) who give children anything they want
  2. Lack of clearly defined rules, so the child knows when they are doing something wrong
  3. Not following through with the consequences for wrong actions
  4. Or not understanding how to properly control a group of children [4]

So we see that often this idea of justice comes from something much deeper than television.

Children learn it by watching adults.

Like most men I’m a fairly relaxed person until someone treats me with disrespect [5]. At that point I turn into an angry individual whose heart is focused on revenge.

That complete change of attitude teaches kids that a normal response to injustice is anger, and making the person who disrespected me pay [6].

There is just one problem with that view of justice though.

Getting what you want doesn’t bring happiness

See getting revenge on the person who disrespected me (by disrespecting them) will feel awesome in the moment, but soon I will realize how those actions fit better with a little boy than a grown man.  And the feeling of guilt over my selfishness or stupid pride will overwhelm whatever happiness there was.

At other times that thing that I absolutely couldn’t live without was viewed with a deep sense of regret after it is finally obtained.

Even television eventually shows the flaws in our idea of justice.  By the end of episode two those same people who loudly demanded their rights found getting whatever they want didn’t bring happiness [7].

Sadly children rarely see that part of the story.

It’s our role as adults to live out a proper view of justice [8] and explain that getting whatever you want doesn’t really bring happiness.

And most importantly we must create a culture that displays true justice.

  • You don’t always get what you want
  • Life isn’t always fair (at least not the way you define it)
  • There are consequences for actions

The children may rebel, cry, and threaten never to come back. But it’s better for them to experience real justice now than to encounter it unprepared as adults.

  1. The did return, but in the moment had no plans of doing so  ↩
  2. This is an illustration of how culture teaches justice means getting whatever you want, and anyone who doesn’t give you what you want is wrong  ↩
  3. I’ve edited some profanity out of this phrase  ↩
  4. discipline or control for a group of kindergarteners is done differently than with a group of fourth graders  ↩
  5. Emmerson Eggerichs has done an excellent study on man’s desire to be respected in his relationship book, Love and Respect  ↩
  6. The children attempted to do this by refusing to come back  to our after school program ↩
  7. instead it brough chaos, violence, and death  ↩
  8. I’m not saying we should let people misuse us, but every offense doesn’t give reason to fight back  ↩

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