We were watching Gullah Gullah Island last night and the theme was No Rules - the kids complained about having so many rules, and said they didn't want any anymore. The adults agreed to get rid of all the rules - no longer would the kids have to follow any rules at all. So the kids are quite predictably excited, saying, "This is gonna be GREAT!" and the parents look at each other knowingly, since the kids are obviously going to learn a lesson about "why we have rules."
The kids are now allowed to run in the house, stay up late, sleep downstairs, wear makeup, have brownies for dinner, eat as much candy as they want, have their pet in the house (Binyah Binyah, a giant polliwog.) And naturally... the kids eat too much candy and get sick to their stomachs, the girl wants to watch TV while the boys are trying to sleep, the kids won't share. They are sick, getting hurt, and fighting. Chaos. Mayhem. The very picture of ANARCHY!
The whole idea they were promoting was that without rules, being enforced by adults - authority figures who "know better" - no one would have any sense of when to stop eating, how to get along with others, or how to be safe. At the end of the show, the visiting boy says, "I'm calling my mother, I want to go home! I don't care how many chores I have to do, I want the rules back!" And then the parents swoop in with their gentle, "Now do you see why we have rules?" And they sing a song about how great rules are because they make sure we are healthy and safe and considerate of others.
These kids had always had these rules, and were suddenly released of them in one day. So they went overboard, and pushed their own boundaries... part of the process of finding out what their own personal limits ARE. And they got sick. And they got hurt. And they got into arguments. The obvious conclusion to me is that boy who ate too many jelly beans learned a valuable lesson about how many jelly beans he can handle in one sitting. The kids learned that if they are inconsiderate, their brother/friends will be angry or hurt. Eventually these children would find balance. I mean, if these kids are feeling this way they probably are trying to sneak cookies before dinner. And if rules are the only thing keeping the kids from fighting all the time, then they really aren't learning anything about getting along and loving one another and true consideration or compassion. It might "keep the peace" but it doesn't TEACH anything. The people writing the show obviously are totally blind to this, and felt really pleased about helping children to "understand why there are rules" - a concept that children don't have the experience to appreciate. When in fact its the adults' perspective that is narrow.
The lesson I learned from this Gullah Gullah episode? Children who are expected to follow "rules" and adult-imposed limitations do not develop any sense of judgment or internal control. They learn only to be considerate of one another because there will be some consequence. They do not learn to gauge safety effectively. They do not learn to set their own boundaries, to negotiate, to take others into consideration. They do not learn to be functioning adults in an autonomous, peaceful society.
And what does it say about society that we don't want them to?
Say it ain't so, Binyah Binyah. Say it ain't so