As a father of two young children and an advocate for and with young people for much of my career, I want to make an impassioned request: stop associating bad behavior by adults with the actions of a child or adolescent.
The petulant child analogy, the “adult daycare” image, or any of the other references to adolescence that try to capture the limited emotional intelligence of the current resident of the White House fundamentally misunderstand and muddle both what it means to be a child and what it means to be an adult. The petulant adult is a different beast from the developing child and we need to treat him as such.
For starters, my child’s daycare while full of petulant children, including my own, is a place of love and growth and inspiration. It’s a place of unbounded learning and development, not unbounded dysfunction, conniving, and malice.
In a typically developing child, mistakes, conflicts, and even random tantrums come from naiveté, exploration of boundaries, and the reality of yet-to-be-developed parts of their brains that drive things like executive decision making and management of emotions. I struggle with these things every day as a parent, but I recognize that my kids’ lack of logic and decision-making is normal, natural, and why they need consistent, loving parents and other caring adults around them. At the end of the day, they are doing their job developing and I just have to keep doing mine in guiding, loving, and supporting them unconditionally.
We should never confuse this process and generally healthy dynamic with what we see happening in our White House, in our country, our boardrooms, or anywhere else. We should never associate genuinely childlike behavior like tantrums or grabbing someone else’s toy with the actions of adults who persistently lash out irrationally, don’t understand basic relational norms and constructs foundational to a society, and who use their position and power to manipulate and disempower others. In adults, this is not naiveté; it’s perversion. It’s not exploration; it’s intention. It’s not about their limited brain development; it’s about the rest of us accepting and normalizing bad behavior because of someone’s money or position or race. None of this is child-like. It is sick.
At the root of the illness is privilege, which not only has the ability to arrest basic social development in the child of privilege but also can persist to embolden and empower that lack of development as a source of ignorant, coercive, bully power in adulthood. The other privileged of us not directly impacted by their malevolence only feed and strengthen it through direct support or inaction.
I don’t know what to do at this point except try to do the little things every day to keep finding a place to move my next foot forward.
So, today, let’s take some power back, take a step forward, and reclaim our language not only in fairness to our children but also to clarify the real issues we are facing.
Donald Trump is not a petulant child in an adult daycare. He’s a sick adult. It’s different.