For much of the last 45 years, the Chinese government imposed a one-child policy that forced parents to have fewer kids than they desired, and to resort to abortion or feticide if a subsequent child was conceived by accident. That same government has cracked down on youth-led pro-democracy protests, both at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and in Hong Kong more recently. It shut down whole cities in a failed effort to contain COVID, keeping Shanghai's citizens, including millions of children, mostly shut inside, sometimes with little food available, for weeks on end. And it tries to lock dissent and embarrasing information out of the internet, so that Chinese citizens, young and old alike, won't learn about the vile acts that the government has committed—or is currently committing.
But apparently it makes a "good co-parent," or so fashion designer Heather Kaye claims in a New York Times op-ed. Kaye, an American who raised two daughters in Shanghai, lauds the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its strict controls on internet access and time spent playing video games. This "heavy censorship," she writes, creates "a kid-friendly internet." She adds that "the tight control of the Communist Party surveillance state results in its own kind of freedom," in the form of safe, largely crime-free streets where children can wander.
"We sometimes felt as if our children were on loan to us for evenings and weekends, to be delivered back to school each weekday," writes Kaye. "At times, our girls would repeat propaganda," she admits, but she thinks the benefits reaped by their traditional Chinese schooling—respect for elders, obedience, morning calisthenics—were worth it.
What Kaye doesn't mention is that all this can be accomplished in the U.S. (minus the parroting of CCP propaganda) via a mixture of healthy discipline and free-range parenting. Parental controls that block a kid's access to certain sites are freely available for purchase, and parents can supervise their children's web access and screen time. Yes, at some point most kids will be exposed to content that Mom and Dan find objectionable. But it's the job of the parent—not the government—to set boundaries according to their values. Parents know their own children better, and care about them more, than the government does.
Lots of children are free to wander the streets of their neighborhoods without having to live under authoritarianism—in fact, such parental permissiveness was commonplace up until the milk-carton kids of the '80s, and it's being brought back today by the free-range parenting movement, which emphasizes that the world is much safer, from kidnappers or sexual predators or homicidal lunatics skulking in the shadows, than most Western parents realize. And even if Chinese children are safer from freelance criminals looking to shove them into unmarked vans and cart them off, the government's own unmarked vans are a bigger threat to kids who deviate from the party line.
Kaye concedes that Chinese parents are still barred from learning the gender of their unborn babies. She writes that this is "because of a history of sex-selective abortions," but she refrains from noting how that history is entwined with the one-child policy. Though that policy was loosened to two children in 2015, and was done away with altogether in 2021, the CCP's law against learning the gender of a child in utero is proof that the government still in some way considers children, from conception onward, government property.
Government censorship and surveillance deprive kids of one of the most valuable things life has to give: the ability to freely form beliefs, to offer them to others, to humbly learn from disagreement, and to grow both thoughtful and resilient as this process happens again and again.