We live in an adult world. We are forced to grow up much too quickly these days and not allowed to enjoy being a child nearly long enough. It makes me glad I was born fifty years ago! This is something I never thought I would find myself saying out loud, much less feel.
In today’s society, children must to go school prior to kindergarten to fit into the norm. It is called preschool I am told. It is essential instructions for attending school and oh, so much more than just how to behave and development of socialization skills. Students, mind you 3, 4 and 5 year old's, are learning numbers, letters and a host of other items my generation learned in kindergarten. My children followed my same path and did not suffer irreparable damage without attending these early education classes. One child grew up to obtain a PhD and the other obtained her Masters. Do I dare admit that neither went into kindergarten knowing their numbers and letters all that well?
When did being a little child stop being just playing all day? Our focus was simply exploring outside, forming friendships and modeling behavior, sometimes behavior our parents didn’t realize they had! I remember the time I saw my daughter, at age 4, disciplining her baby dolls and I realized how critical I was sounding and realized I needed to change up my verbiage! When I took my kids out, it was not to drop them at a school setting but to take them to the lake to feed the ducks bread crumbs, go to the zoo, play at the park, or visit the library. In those days preschool meant pre (before attending) school.
Sports are another area that has dramatically changed and thrown today’s young people into an adult world. All around ball fields can be heard comparisons to popular professional athletes as if these little leaguers stand a chance of being major league ball players. Is that a reasonable goal and the kind of pressure a small child needs put on them at such a tender age?
My neighbor and I were discussing this recently as he is the head of a sports program in the area for children. As such, he sees a great deal of parents and coaches of all types. The ones that stand out the most are the ones that believe sports is the end all of their children’s lives. They push their children to the edge to get them to perform, threatening with every means possible to get them too continually to beat the competition, outperform themselves, and stand out from the rest. They show no mercy on the competitor even though the competitor is a child. They argue with other parents as if the game on the line matters, as if the winning or losing involves millions of dollars of endorsement deals for the winners. As Jim told me “They push the kids too hard and yell at the kids and each other. The screaming can be unrelenting; some are thrown out of the game, the parents, not the kids!”
Sports are not basic training. It is not adult training for life. It is organized play time for kids. Soon enough they will be in upper grades and sports becomes highly competitive. Until that day comes, why can’t children just play and parents butt out? Sports were created as an extra curriculum activity, a hobby. By definition, it is an outside interest. I think my neighbor has the right attitude, the day his children come to him and say it is no longer fun is the day he will have them quit playing. I am grateful my parents realized, even with my height and good shooting ability, I was never going to be a Harlem Globe Trotter and they just let me play basketball for me.
Kids today are even forced to grow up and not be children when it comes to how they dress. Boys are made to look like little men and the girls are dressed to look like little divas. Just a trip to the local mall can bear out the case that children dress older than they look and this starts at a very young age. In the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein she repeatedly explores how marketing is branding little girls and young mothers into believing their small children need to begin their lives as little half grown princesses. Whatever happened to just being a little girl, to little bonnets and Pippi Longstocking? I find it humorous that our infants have to be pre-labeled “Drama Queen” today or “Chick Magnet”. Yes it is cute but is it an adult label. Continually calling or labeling children with these kind of messages is programming them to be mini adults at young age. Why not let them grow up naturally? My friends with boys tell me instead of finding clothes for with bugs and bikes on them, these days the clothing has icons of skulls, bones and hard rock instead. Hardly the stuff small boys are into. These boys are not into school yet much less heavy metal!
Maybe, as a society, we need to slow down the growing up process. We are living longer these days so why must we grow up so fast? Perhaps the real lesson in life should be how to retain our youth, how to be a child also so that we can keep our sense of humor, our ability to let loose and just sometimes enjoy the moments. Children need to be encouraged to be children and not continually told to “grow up’ or told every time they act like a child that they are acting like a baby. Kids should not have to be mini adults.
Learning to play hard is as important in the scheme of life as learning to work hard. Both together provide balance, relieve stress and prolong live. Are you getting your regular doses of it, playtime? Are you allowing your children to be kids?
Recently, we hosted a party at our house. A very wise friend of ours, getting up there in years, has never lost his ability to be a child. I suppose, because of that, we have never tired of his companionship nor of his wife’s. He has some physical limitations, hence, he cannot easily participate in physical activities but his mind is as sharp as can be. David sat back and observed and chimed in when he could throughout the evening. When he left, he told me he had written something on a pad of paper by my coffee table for me to read. He said it far better than I and in less words:
“It’s refreshing to see otherwise sober and serious adults behaving like the little kids we still are at heart.”
In closing: Let your children be free at heart to be children.