Freedom of Speech

“If either of you say ‘I told you so’ I will…”

“Slap you.”

“Yes! Slap you.”

The above dialogue was directed from adults to two young people. And by that I mean children. Eight years old at the most. Banter, I thought, until a little one lagging behind must have said the offending phrase and an adult turned round and growled the name of the child warningly.

It even scared me a little.

I latched onto the hope that it was simply playful banter. Especially when the other grown up spotted the sale corner and ushered the young people in to have a look.

“Gather in, out the way of other people.”

I strolled past, hopeful for the children, when an exclamation of “Awesome!” from one of the children gained the following from an adult:

“If you say awesome one more time, I will slap you.”

What are these young people allowed to say?? I know that was literally a two minute conversation in the wide savannah of the children’s lives but it got me thinking.

I know, right? Dangerous.

However, I thought nonetheless.

“Children should be seen and not heard.”

“Children have the right to speak up.”

“We need to build confidence in children.”

“Children’s opinions don’t matter.”

What are we teaching our children? With such a mix of messages, how on earth can we expect them to know what we expect of them?

Freedom of speech is all well and good – but how do we expect a generation to grow up and stand up for what they believe in if we hush them regardless of what they say?

On the other hand, with the Scottish Government passing bills on Offensive Behaviour at football games and being able to imprison people for up to five years for the things they say at a football game, where will it end?

I must say, at this point that I fully support the Scottish Government’s attempts to stop sectarian behaviour and violence surrounding football – it is truly a contemptable fact that individuals will fight and argue over sport and it should not happen under any circumstances.

Coming solely from the angle of free speech; if this is where a bill begins, where will it end? Although the Scottish government website does state that it does not stop individuals peacefully sharing their faith or criminalise jokes about religion (or otherwise) which does protect freedom to some extent. But is this the start of a spiral that begins with football games and ends with strict, complicated rules about what we can and cannot say?

Do we hush up young people when we shouldn’t? Or do we confuse them with our rules?

Our country is in trouble with politics.

But with only about 61% of the UK population turning out to vote at the General Election in 2010 ( I think it is safe to say that British politics is in trouble. Particularly concerning our young people as only 44% of those aged 18-24 decided to vote. Could it be (tenuous as it may sound) that our hushing of young people encourages the growth of a non-voting generation? If children are suffocated in their sharing of opinions, does that grow a desire to shift away from the same in their adult years?

I know there are many reasons around why voters choose not to vote, but I would argue that we have to grow an open space to share opinions, expore viewpoints and make informed decisions from a young age. Thus allowing them to grow in confidence and being equipped to share their opinions and genuinely feel as if their views do count in this world.

Not slapping our children when they speak would definitely be a good start.


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