Respecting the emotions of children

I saw a video recently that made me profoundly uncomfortable. It was a little girl coming home to discover a kitten in her bedroom. The caption was something like; “Watch this little girl’s adorable reaction to her new kitten after losing her cat/BFF six months before”.

She picked up the kitten and immediately burst into tears. She asked if they could keep it: “Yes”. And then she just fell to pieces. She sobbed uncontrollably holding the kitten. No doubt she was glad to have the kitten but her expression* was one of inconsolable grief. What’s up?

I can guess the timeline after she lost her cat/BFF.  Her parents were sad of course, but their daughter was prostrate with grief. They were patient for a while, but she soon got signals to the effect; “All right, now, that’s enough.” She wasn’t done grieving but she started damming it up somewhere.

Holding the tiny kitten, she was completely overwhelmed by the flood of pent-up grief. She was absolutely beyond any hope of control. All she could do was hold the kitten and sob. It went on for a long time.

And her parents thought it was a good idea to video the whole thing and post it on the internet.

She certainly needed a kitten*. And there was no chance of her receiving it without falling to pieces. But what are the situations in which it would be OK to invite the whole damn world to watch? Her friends? Her definitely-not friends? For as long as the internet shall remember?

I can think of a few instances where such coverage does make sense. A father grieving after a missile attack. An emotionally and physically shattered child sitting in a helicopter. A little girl running from a napalm attack. In these instances the public has a need, a responsibility, to know, and to face what has happened. It is bigger than the individual’s right to privacy.

But no weighty matter of geophysical politics hung in the balance here. In a few minutes she would ride through the flood, hopefully with her parents. And there would be more moments, in which the kitten would help her to process the experience and come out all right. In such extremes, put the damn camera down.

Children’s emotions are just like those of adults, and they have less of the stabilizing ballast that one gains from life experience. To put it another way, children are riding the same wave in a smaller boat. This is true of joy, grief, love, fear, and more. They face all these emotions with no basis for courage, because for all they know this is all there will ever be. So how’s about some respect?


  • I study photos of people very closely. Over the years I’ve learned to recognize expressions. That was some joy in a tsunami of grief.
  • Many people prefer the company of their cat or dog to that of people. Any people.