“Childish” Behavior That Isn’t

At least once a month, I will see bad adult behavior labeled as “childish”. Sometimes it’s a friend fed up with the whining of a “man-baby”. More often it’s a shoddy defense of other adults, a type of “real men” argument that shields adults as a whole from criticism. 

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This morning in a discussion of violence by proxy (destroying someone’s things as a threat to harm them and as a means of control), a man said “Only small badly behaved children do this.” His comment came after several women disclosed stories of men doing this to them in the past. After I pointed out we were discussing men and not children,  he clarified that he neant men who do this are childish. 

But that incorrectly suggests children do engage in the behavior,  in this case domestic violence,  and that men don’t or that it is rare for men to do so yet common for children.  Obviously this rhetorical defense flies in the face of all credible statistics on violence in the home. Children are not the main perpetrators of this bad behavior,  therefore this bad behavior is not “childish”. It is adult.

Children are unfairly maligned with the misdeeds of adults.  Selfishness for example is sometimes called “childish”, yet children in general value fairness and when young children are shown opportunities to give to others they are often overwhelming in their generosity.  Studies from the Harvard Baby Lab found that even one-year-olds became upset if one puppet in a play got more of a treat or toy than another.

The irresponsibility of some adults is also misattributed to the very young. Yet a toddler who lacks patience is as mature as they can be. The developmental immaturity of children,  who do not know better and cannot do better because their bodies and brains are new in this world is normal and natural and not a bad thing. It is not like the chosen irresponsibility of an adult who foisted their obligations on others, yet I have seen this too called “childish”.
I think it’s time we recognized that some bad behavior is more common than adults than kids, and that we should expect more from adults than we do from children.  I propose a new word to describe such actions: adultish.  Abuse is adultish. Causing a mortgage crisis for profit is adultish.  Ignoring homeless people on the street is adultish.  We could learn a lot from children. Let’s try.

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