You must be kidding

In a recent Attachment Parenting discussion, it was asked: Do you refer to your children as “children” or “kids”? It was posited in that question that AP and other ostensibly progressively minded parents are more likely to use “child” while more traditional parents are more likely to use “kid.” “Child,” after all, is more respectful.

Since seeing that conversation, I’ve examined my own usage. I was aware at the time that my preferred generic term for my own son is “kidlet,” which is deliberately playful through its redundancy, but that I tend to use “kid” to refer to other people’s children. What’s most interesting about this is, as a child, I hated the word “kid.” It seems to be one of those social conventions, like calling adult women “girls,” that is so insidiously ubiquitous that it’s an easy habit to fall into oneself.

On the other hand, I tend to see “children” not as respectfully as the person who posed the question does. My mind goes to the adage that “children should be seen and not heard,” and hence associate “children” with the perception that they’re humans-in-training who ought to observe quietly and speak only when spoken to. Also, I have less compunction about calling teens “kids” than “children.”

Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. When I know the gender of the youth in question, I can use an appropriate gender-based term without qualm: Son, daughter, boy, girl. “Youths” itself sounds stilted, “boys and girls” can be awkward if I’m not sure of the gender of everyone in a group, and “minors” sounds legal. “Teens,” “tweens,” “toddlers,” and so forth can be insulting if I’m incorrect about a youth’s age.

All of which supports why I’ve been defaulting to “kid” when I don’t know the details: While I don’t like it, it’s culturally safe. It’s what everyone else says. Which is, of course, a cop-out. If I’m personally opposed to the use of “kid” to refer to humans, it’s up to me to make sure I avoid using it. I don’t need to lecture others when they do it, because that would likely be obnoxious and counterproductive, but I do need to be mindful of my own usage. Or I should make peace with my usage of the word.

As I’ve reflected upon it, I’ve realized that there are numerous other options, and that these options have the added benefit of making my own speech more flexible and colorful. Simply dumping everyone under the age of 20 or so into a single bucket, “kid,” and then also including anyone’s offspring regardless of age (“your kids are grown, right?”), is linguistic laziness. While I may not be successful in utterly removing “kid” from my lexicon, I can at least make positive inroads.

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