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The Camera Isn’t Mine

Written by Katrina Moncure Sep 01, 2011

Last Christmas, I got my mother a digital camera. She was so excited! A few days earlier, I’d gone to Best Buy, picked one out, paid for it, went home, wrapped it, and placed it under the tree Christmas morning. So when one looks at who paid, you might say the camera belongs to me, not my mom. But that’s not right. I gave it to her. It was a gift. As such, it no longer belongs to me. It is not mine to tamper with. It is not mine to use. It is not mine to take from my mom when she says or does something I do not like. It’s a gift, and from that point on belongs to my mom unconditionally and not to me unless where so invited.

Though maybe I should take it at some point when she pisses me off. Sweet revenge!

Because when I was younger, I was not afforded this same respect. Everything I owned could be taken from me at any time, regardless of the fact that most of it came into my possession as a gift. The more I cherished an item, the greater risk there was of having it taken from me if I did something someone did not like. For me back then and many kids and teens now, there’s no such thing as a gift. Everything is goods for ransom, bargaining chips.

Even many youth rights supporters seem okay with this system for some reason. It’s the “in my house, under my rules” mindset where the person who pays for things is essentially lord of creation. This comes up sometimes in discussions over parental controls on devices or room searches, the idea that “if the parents paid for it, they have that right” and might go on to say that, because of that, it’s not really a youth rights issue so they aren’t being ageist for saying so.

Oh, please! If not a youth rights issue, how come this sort of system, where someone you live with or are dependent on has full rights over your possessions, is virtually unheard of in the adult world, except in the context of abusive relationships? Does it sound at all right to take things away from an unemployed spouse or dependent elderly parent? Even things you purchased for them yourself? Absolutely not. And what if I were to go over to my parents’ house right now and take back my mom’s digital camera? Is it my right because I’m the one who paid for it, or am I just a thief? What if she fell on hard times and had to live with me? Would I then be able to take away her camera? Maybe remove her bedroom door because I think she’s in there too much? Maybe take away her computer or car, despite neither of these things belonging to me, because there are other things I want her to be doing? Where’s my rights of ownership then? Or is the fact she’s an adult render that right void? Ah, I see!

So, then, how come this ability to take back a gift to a young person at any time for any reason is okay? Giving a gift, even to a young person, means said gift is no longer yours, yet this rule tends to be respected only for adults. For youth, every gift they open on their birthdays and gift-giving holidays has the tacit caveat of “it’s only yours until your parents are unhappy with you and want to punish you”. And why should anybody have to live like that?

The only reason not to believe a person’s possessions are really her own is to believe the person herself is not her own. So we come to realizing it doesn’t actually matter that the parents or whoever paid for said toys or gadgets that are being confiscated or monitored. Because the parents in this case believe the young person to be part of their own property, thus everything else just accessories, for them to remove or alter at their leisure. If the young person’s real humanity were honored, she would maintain possession of her cell phone regardless of whether she uttered a swear word or wasn’t getting her homework done fast enough. And what is stealing from her supposed to accomplish other than making her feel violated and insecure within her own home and family anyway?

Now I can’t blame parents in general for the desire to maintain control over things that actually are theirs. But when pairing this desire with the constant message of youth inferiority and sanctity of parental rights, this desire to protect one’s supposed property severely runs amok. And comes to include things that the parents had little to do with their children obtaining, such as things that are gifts from others, children’s own monetary earnings, Halloween candy, online accounts, and much more. That is not protection of property. That is enforcing supposed possession of young person!

But even for computers the parents did purchase or cell phones whose plans the parents pay for, monitoring and confiscation is still out of line. These were gifts, and gifts are by definition unconditional. When there are conditions, that parents must monitor communications or take it away whenever they want, you are doing it wrong. It is still spying. It is still stealing. The supposed gift is laced with still more methods of obsessive parental control, another avenue of intruding on communications, another way to blackmail youth into arbitrary compliance. What kind of a gift is that?

Do I imply youth are entitled to computers and cell phones and such without accountability to those from whom they got them? Well, that’s way beside the point. Let’s go back to my mother’s camera. The Christmas before last was when she had originally asked for a digital camera and was upset she did not get one. A year later, still without one, I managed to buy her one then and she did still appreciate it. But my mother is in her late forties. In the intervening year, she could have just gone out and bought a digital camera herself but did not. She expected one from me. Okay, so I still bought her one, whatever. Even though I suppose she sure acted like she was entitled to that camera! But even with all that said, it would still be pretty horrible of me to continue to assume any ownership of that camera. And while I wasn’t required to buy anything for her, I don’t feel my rights were violated because I did so anyway.

What if the above scenario played out basically the same but instead of my 47-year-old mother was a 16-year-old girl? Expecting a pricy gadget to be just given to her. Well, one important difference. At 16, due to position in life due to ageist/adultist societal structures and regulations, you sort of have to be given everything since your ability to work, obtain money, make purchases, and get around are much more limited than at age 47. My mother despite having the ability to have just purchased said item herself still expected someone else do it. Said teenager is significantly less able to. Despite this, however, it is the teen who would be seen as “feeling entitled”, that someone giving in her to request would be a chump. And that’s with the fact that the supposed chump is considered rightfully able to take back or alter said gadget while I recognize having no such right with my mother’s gift.

And even so, even if one did want to cling religiously to the idea of having a right to take away or monitor things given to their dependents, having a right doesn’t make it the right thing to do!

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