Let Kids Be Kids: Modern Perceptions of Childhood

Preparing for this article, I, first, thought back to my own childhood. Don't be fooled, I had a GREAT childhood. I spent my days running around being a kid. Despite this unbridled freedom, I still wanted to be an adult so I could be taken seriously (much like most kids do). Unfortunately, this is the case for many children. While sometimes seeking out adulthood is a choice, others are forced into mature roles. As of recently, I have noticed kids are given no other choice but to act older than they are, and grow up faster than they should. Kids should be free to be creative, imaginative, and free. We should not be pushing our expectations of adulthood on children when they aren't ready. 

If you use any type of social media you might see some sort of posts comparing 13-year-old girls now to 13-year-old-girls in the past. This is mostly goes to show that girls are more "developed" and adult-like at a young age. But why are girls these days dressing and acting more like mini-adults? And the answer is, unfortunately, found in the mass sexualization of young girls. Young women grow up learning that their worth is in their looks. They see the attention they get if they are pretty, and that affects them a lot. When I was a little kid, and my friends and I would pretend we were older our focus was often on our looks (makeup, fashion, etc.) If anyone asked 12-year-old me how old I was, I would lie and say I was 14 because I so badly wanted to be older. In order to look more mature I would do what any 12-year-old would do: I dressed the part. While it isn't necessarily wrong to care about how you look,  when you are told that you are only worth something if you are nice to look at, that is problematic. Since we put so much pressure on young girls to be mature, beautiful, and adult-like, girls are responding by replicating that. If we just allowed young girls to be young girls, they wouldn't feel like they had to grow up and act like a woman so fast.

But this isn't just a young girl problem. This epidemic of young children being expected to act older than they are affects all genders. Both boys and girls face a great amount of pressure--a burden put on their shoulders from adults, family, media, and society. Looking at media specifically,you'll notice that when the father figure makes a grand departure, he will tell his young son that he has to "be the man of the house" or "take care of the family". This is said even if the mother is alive or if there are older sisters more capable of following these instructions. This is unacceptable. If a young boy believes that it is his moral obligation to be the is the man of the house and is given responsible for all of his family, he won't have an healthy and happy childhood. Both boys and girls  are silenced as children and not allowed to act like a child. Though I remember being so proud if someone told me that I was mature for my age, it is important to ask why might that be such a coveted character trait. Did I not deserve to have a long, fun childhood acting as immature as I wanted? 

Another important question to ask is why do we praise children for being mature? Why is that such a good thing? News flash: It isn't. There is nothing wrong with children being immature and childish, especially when you ARE a child. Children deserve to live their lives as freely as they want. The truth is, we really shouldn't expect more from then until they are older (unless the situation demands it) If a girl is acting childlike she is yelled at for being "unladylike" and if a boy throws a tantrum, he is told to "act like a man". This shouldn't be expected from children. By cutting off their expression of identity and emotions from a young age, children are told that they have to hide their feelings and that having emotions is "bad".

This is a hard concept to talk about, since there are so many different layers to this. However, it is still, nonetheless, important to discuss. I feel like a lot of people will blame technology, especially social media and TV for this, when I think it is an array of other contributing factors. For example, our children may be outgrowing their "childish" identities due to gender roles, expectations from adults, the political climate, and yes, the media. Kids are seeing how men and women should act and they take it to heart. Children want to act like adults so they will mimic what they think adults act like. And when they do...we praise them for it. More often than we think, kids don't want to be kids because they see adulthood as this magical identity filled with power, influence, and control, leading them to skip their childhood altogether. This image of adulthood is often fed to them through movies, books, and the media in general.

In short, kids are growing up too fast. We are making girls care about their appearances and pushing boys into the "tough man" too early. Kids have so much pressure on them to act a certain way, so much so that they are not given the freedom to just be a kid. We need to let kids be immature, messy, and crazy. Let girls get dirty in the mud, don't call them unladylike for it. Don't put so many expectations on young boys to be the man of the house when there is still so much growing to do. Let kids be kids. Adulthood will come and they are going to wish they enjoyed their childhood more, so it is time we let that happen.

Pic Credits: 

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