“Because I Said So”: Why it’s Important to Teach Kids to Question Authority

Ruthie Gustason, Contributing Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Most of today’s high school students can remember the iconic scene at the beginning of the movie Lemonade Mouth when Stella stands up and rips off her jacket at the pep rally to reveal the “Question? Authority” t-shirt administration had barred her from wearing earlier that day, inciting a riot and landing her in the detention that becomes the beginning of the band Lemonade Mouth.

The idea of questioning authority is something that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of most parents. Parents spend the first few years of every child’s life teaching them how to behave. We learn to sit down, to be quiet, to stand up straight, to listen to our mother, to be nice to our sister, and to share our toys. If you try to ask “why?”, you are answered with the universal “Because I said so.”

Manners obviously serve an important purpose in our lives, teaching us how to act in front of people who are less likely to tolerate behavior such as punching our brothers or raising our voices to a yell while reading aloud in class. When we teach manners, however, we suppress the urge to question, citing it as “talking back” and being disrespectful.

Questioning authority and disrespecting authority are not the same thing. When we question authority, we ask:

“Am I being respected?”

“Is this fair?”

“What is the reasoning behind this?”

Questioning authority is asking yourself or a person in power why something is happening, and whether it should be happening. This is very different from disrespecting authority, because when you disrespect authority, you are not asking any questions. Disrespecting authority could be a step to take after questioning authority, but only if you are seeking to remove those in charge from their position of power. Disrespecting authority is refusing to treat a person in power with respect, while questioning authority is questioning why something is happening.

Teaching kids to (apologize after a verbal altercation) tie their shoes “because I said so” is teaching them to blindly follow anyone who has power over them, and that it is unacceptable to question the motives of those in power. When you think about that in a classroom or in a household, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. You’re just teaching them to behave, the same way your parents taught you. If you think about it on a larger scale, though, it has a much less positive effect.

The reason the United States has free speech is to ensure that the public has the ability to question unfair authority. Social movements begin when a large number of people have strong feelings about the behavior or motives something being done by of a person or persons in power and they then gather together to question that authority. Questioning authority is what instigates change and is what moves the world forward, and if you don’t teach your kids to question authority, you don’t teach them to fight back against those who are taking advantage of them. You are not preparing your children to enter into a world where those in power may not want what’s best for them, and you aren’t preparing them to protect themselves from people who seem bigger and smarter than them.

Teaching your kids to question authority may not always make parenting the easiest task, but anyone who wants to be a parent because it seems easy is already in for a world of hurt. Questioning authority can also lead to an increase of respect between the two parties. If you give your child a legitimate reason to shower, for example, they’re less likely to ask you about it the next time, and they won’t be as upset about having to shower because they know that showering keeps them healthy so they can play outside and be around other kids. The only way that questioning authority leads to disrespecting authority is if the authority does not have sufficient reasoning or responds in an inappropriate and defensive way to being questioned. If the authority shows mutual respect for the person questioning them, then the individual will determine they are an effective authority and will no longer feel the need to question them.

Parents need to teach their kids to question authority. Encourage kids to question why they need to make their bed in the morning, and if they don’t like your reasoning, then maybe you need to find a way to compromise. Parents are the leaders of the household, and they teach kids how power dynamics are supposed to play out. When you teach your kid to question and to reason, they will be more likely to question authorities who will not always want the best for them, the way their parents do. Kids who question authority grow up to be the people who create change, and they grow up into adults you would be proud to have raised.