In Defense of Childhood

I’ve had some interesting dialogs on my Facebook page this past week. The first was triggered by my discovery that little kids are watching The Walking Dead. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a people watcher, but I’m a big fan of reading “Comments” at the end of articles or blogs, and it was there that I found people mentioning that TWD was their 3 year old grandson’s favorite show, or how TWD was their family’s show that they all watched together—mom, dad, and the 5- and 7-year-olds. These folks stated that of course their kids knew the show was make-believe…and that they weren’t at all bothered by what was portrayed on the show.

Um, okay. That’s…interesting, considering how disturbed I am by some of what happens on that show. It’s violent and disturbing and even if children (allegedly) know it’s not real, those dark, graphic images don’t need to be in a little kid’s mind. Murder. Betrayal. Brutal deaths. Even some sweaty sex. How can that be a good thing? I mean….childhood. You only get one, and it’s such a short period of time. What’s the big rush for grown-up stuff.

The other exchange came as a result of a text from my 21-year-old niece, in which she vented about some really explicit, nasty rap lyrics she’d heard on the radio. In my FB post, I expressed my dismay and concern that such crude, violent, derogatory lyrics were on public radio, where any kid could hear them. This post also led to a good exchange, notably about freedom and where do one person’s rites end and another begin. A friend of mine summed it up nicely by saying she was quite fine with anyone who wanted to read 50 Shades of Grey. That’s their choice. But she doesn’t want them reading it aloud over the intercom of the grocery store. Excellent point.

All this has me thinking about our kids…and what we’re doing to them. I say we as a society. We as a culture. It seems we’re in a great big hurry to treat them as a grown-ups, as if childhood is a phase to be raced through as quickly as possible. I mean, have you looked at girl clothes? One section of the department store is stocked with princess, kitten, and puppy themed clothes. The next section is all short skirts, tight low cut shirts…and padded training bras! What’s up with that?

Yeah, yeah. I know. I sound like every other generation of parent, wringing my hands over choices kids are making. But here’s the deal. Our kids are exposed to more than any generation before them. They have access we never dreamed possible. To anything. And it’s no secret they’re massively stressed out. They’re anxious. They’re medicated. And I don’t know about you, but while I sure had drama when I was a kid, I wasn’t stressed out or in need of medication to get me through the day.

And it makes me sad. Sad for our kids and the world they’re living in. For the fact that they’re not really allowed to be kids anymore. That being a kid isn’t cool. But the truth of the matter is, kids aren’t supposed to know everything, have everything, be mature, be anxious, be stressed, always make the right decision, anticipate every possible consequence of a new choice, etc. They’re not supposed to be mini-adults—robots. There’s plenty of time for that—later. When they really are grown up. The real world intrudes quickly enough.

Childhood comes only once, and it’s supposed to be about innocence. About playing and skinning knees, and yes, making mistakes. That’s how we learn. It’s about exploring, about climbing trees and building blanket forts, collecting rocks and catching turtles, about creating new worlds and new games, about free time. Unstructured time. Time to read books or draw or paint, to color outside the lines and build Lego creations, to sing and dance and be silly. To observe the world around them, to learn. To be carefree.

muddy ellie

But when I look around, I don’t see a whole lot of that anymore, and I can’t help but wonder: given how much adults complain about stress and pressure and our crazy, wrung-out lives, why are we subjecting our kids to the same? Why are we so eager to saddle/strain their innocence with ugly realities before we have to? Why aren’t we protecting this magical time, the only time in their lives when they’re actually free to be…a kid?

5 thoughts on “In Defense of Childhood

  1. Amen, sister! I am preserving my daughters’ childhood as long as I can. We play Candyland, they blow bubbles and look for roly polys. When they do watch TV, I only allow PBS kid shows or things like Pound Puppies. And they love it! Kids WANT to be kids. Society rushes them. But I’m not allowing it! 🙂

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  2. I agree! Especially in regards to letting kids have time to play and just be kids. I let my kids play in mud puddles and get dirty at the park. Or just sit and drop rocks in the grate if that’s what they want to do. I’ve gotten some really strange looks and one time a man walking a dog (who sounded like he didn’t even have kids) stopped to chastise me for letting my son get muddy.

    They’re kids! They have the rest of their lives to stay neat and clean and follow everyone else’s expectations about what they’re “supposed” to do.

    As for unsupervised free time to play outside (which I had a lot of and loved) sadly, I think that is a thing of the past. 😦 Even if I wanted to let my kids play by themselves (they’re a little young and my older son’s autism would make it tricky) there are signs everywhere in the park and wherever I go saying “Adult supervision required at all times.” There was a really good article in the Atlantic (The Overprotected Kid) about how our society has changed so much around this idea and how kids have changed because of it

    I’m not saying we could make it exactly like the “good old days” but getting a little bit of that back would be nice.

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  3. I used to teach middle school, and it is shocking what some parents allow (or don’t know) their kids are watching. I definitely vote for preserving childhood as long as possible. My daughter thinks being a kid is the best thing ever, and I am glad she loves being a kid.

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