I came across this piece on English-language Germany news site TheLocal.de:
Family puts kids in charge for a month
A German author and his wife put themselves to the biggest test of their lives last year by handing over the family power to their two children for a month. The biggest challenge? Managing the budget.
“For one month we parents unquestioningly took orders from our children. We gave them absolute control of the family budget.”
The result was a long humiliation – asking for pocket money, begging to stay up longer in the evenings, and accepting a “No” without question.
“Even if they grow up with loving, generous parents, children have to do whatever they’re told, day in, day out,” wrote Metzger, explaining the experiment.
“Of course, we’re the big ones, they’re the little ones. It’s our job to protect and feed them, and to show them how things work. But very often we do all that with words and with an attitude that contradicts all the rules of respectful co-habiting.”
Metzger claims the psychological experiment did not come out of any radical pedagogical beliefs – “Me and Helga are not hippies” – but out of a spontaneous decision to allow his son Jonny to train him in table-tennis.
“Afterwards, he gave me a big hug and told me, ‘Dad, no adult has ever talked to me as politely as you did then. That felt really good.’ ”
(Read the full piece on The Local)
I’m glad to see adults outside alternative education taking note of how condescending and authoritarian adults’ treatment of children is. It does, however, chalk up the children’s inferior planning skills to their age, which isn’t really fair (besides being ageism.)
I bet these kids would be much better at planning if they were allowed to plan more. Since their parents “aren’t hippies” – which apparently means they go to traditional schools – they’ve spent the better part of the day every day for years in an environment in which a clock tells them what to do when. How on earth are they supposed to learn how to plan anything?
Not to mention budget management. In a Sudbury school, the Metzger children would have had the right to participate in school budget decisions – which are boring, so they probably wouldn’t, but if they did they’d know more about budgets – and they would be able to consult with friends amongst the students and staff who have more experience with money.
I guess the thing that disturbs me most about this is that even when a couple is willing to give their children serious responsibility, they do it in this temporary, schizophrenic way. Children actually can deal with real responsibility and control over their life, but that doesn’t mean the children should swap roles with the parents. There’s quite a lot of room for treating each other equally and respectfully within a parent-children relationship, without either side going all authoritarian on the other.