Sailing Alone: Teenage Autonomy and Regimes of Childhood
Should society intervene to prevent the risky behavior of precocious teenagers even if it would be impermissible to intervene with adults who engage in the same risky behavior? The problem is well illustrated by the legal case of the 13-year-old Dutch girl Laura Dekker, who set out in 2009 to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone, succeeding in January 2012. In this paper we use her case as a point of entry for discussing the fundamental question of how to demarcate childhood from adulthood. After summarizing the case, we identify a ‘demarcation dilemma’ that frames much of the public and expert debate. On the one hand, it seems morally imperative ‘to treat like alike’, which means that both children and adults should be allowed to undertake all actions for which they have the relevant competences. On the other hand, requiring proportional treatment of children and adults seems to neglect the special nature of childhood as a distinct stage in life that ends at a specific age. We introduce the notion of a ‘regime of childhood’ to deal with this problem. This regime includes several dimensions, including the limited liability for children, the supervisory responsibilities of parents, the role of age-based thresholds, and the overarching purpose of childhood as a context for developing autonomy. We argue that, all things considered, there are good reasons not to shift to a regime that offers individual children the option of qualifying for adulthood on the basis of age-neutral criteria.
- Anderson, Joel. 2011. Autonomy, agency, and the self. In Jürgen habemas: Key concepts, edited by Barbara Fultner. Durham: Acumen Press.
- Anderson, Elizabeth and Richard Pildes. 2000. Expressive theories of law: A general restatement. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 148 (5): 1503-75.
- Archard, David. 2004. Children, rights and childhood. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
- Boxill, Bernard, The Color-Blind Principle. In Blacks and Social Justice (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992).
- Brighouse, Harry. 2003. How should children be heard? Arizona Law Review 45:691-711.
- Farson, Richard. 1974. Birthrights. New York: Macmillan.
- Feinberg, Joel. The Child’s Right to an Open Future. In Freedom & Fulfillment: Philosophical Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).
- Feinberg, Joel. 1986. Harm to self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gardner, Chadwick. 1994. Don’t come cryin’to daddy! Emancipation of minors: When is a parent free at last from the obligation of child support. University of Louisville Journal of Family Law 33:927-948.
- Hohfeld, Wesley Newcomb. 1913. Some fundamental legal conceptions as applied in judicial reasoning. Yale Law Journal 23 (1):16-59. CrossRef
- Holt, John C. 1974. Escape from childhood. New York: E.P. Dutton.
- Macleod, Colin. 2010. Primary goods, capabilities and children. In Measuring justice. Primary goods and capabilities, edited by Harry Brighouse and Ingrid Robeyns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Noggle, Robert. 2002. Special agents: Children’s autonomy and parental authority. In The moral and political status of children, edited by David Archard and Colin Macleod. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Noggle, Robert, and Samantha Brennan. 1997. The moral status of children: Children’s rights, parents’ rights, and family justice. Social Theory and Practice 23 (1):1-26.
- Scarre, Geoffrey. 1980. Children and paternalism. Philosophy 55 (211):117-124. CrossRef
- Schapiro, Tamar. 1999. What is a child? Ethics 109 (4):715-738. CrossRef
- Schapiro, Tamar. 2003. Childhood and personhood. Arizona Law Review 45:575-594.
- Schrag, Francis. 1977. The child in the moral order. Philosophy 52 (200):167-177. CrossRef
- Sunstein, Cass. 1995. On the expressive function of law. University of Pennsylvania Law Review. 144:2021-2053. CrossRef
- Walzer, Michael. 1983. Spheres of justice. A defense of pluralism and equality. New York: Basic Books.
- Sailing Alone: Teenage Autonomy and Regimes of Childhood
- Open Access
- Available under Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Law and Philosophy
Volume 31, Issue 5 , pp 495-522
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Springer Netherlands
- Additional Links
- Industry Sectors