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The Death of Childhood: One Mother Laments

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Kimberly Seals Allers: I have a serious gripe about the childhood experience in the new millennium.

shocked woman

It's absolutely and completely devoid of innocence. In fact, the concept of innocence as a basic right of childhood has disappeared. Whatever happened to the good ol' days when children were allowed to be children? They wore children's clothes. Played children's games. Talked about things children should talk about. And worried about things only children should worry about, like, How am I going to clean my room quick enough to go outside and play? Or, Will Johnny play with me when I get outside?Or, How fast do I have to pedal this bike to make it home before the streetlights come on?

Does anybody else remember these glory days?

Instead, today most parents are dressing their children like mini-adults, in smaller versions of the trashy stuff adults wear. I see little girls in miniskirts, tight jeans, high-heeled shoes and wearing training bras before they have anything to train. I see 4-year-old boys with pierced ears and diamond studs -- sometimes two. Everybody is in a rush for children to grow up.

On any given day in the parenting blogosphere, you'll find someone, somewhere asking if 10 years old is too young to start waxing legs, or some other mommy-angst over eyebrow- or lip-waxing for 8-year-olds. If a child is being teased because of excessive hair growth, then I may understand a parent giving it some consideration (depending on the child's age), but this excessive attention on grooming at such an early age is dangerous. It increases a child's self-consciousness rather than their self-confidence, as far as I'm concerned.

Meanwhile, our conversations, popular music and clothing have oversexualized our children and introduced them to "grown folk" concepts long before they are ready. Then we wonder why 14-year-olds are raping 7-year-olds, and what this world is coming to. My 10- and 6-year-olds barely watch any TV as it is, but when Disney Channel's Hannah Montana started kissing boys and Zack and Cody started "dating," I quickly cut those shows out of the approved rotation.

What's more, when I was growing up, if I wanted to know anything about "grown folks'" conversations, I would have to sneak. And hard. I would have to stay up past my bedtime, sneak down the steps (trying to avoid the creaky spots), squeeze my head in between the banister rails and listen really, really hard. It took serious work and planning in order to hear an adult conversation.

Today, things are just the opposite. Children are in the middle of divorce squabbles, money problems and babymama/babydaddy drama, and they use words they really shouldn't know. Parents don't work to protect a child's right to be innocent. And this is a problem.

When my son was in pre-K at a local Montessori school, a well-respected teacher that I generally admired would make constant joking references to my son's so-called "girlfriend." "Is that your 'girlfriend?' Say goodbye to your 'girlfriend,'" she would say. She thought it was so cute. I took her aside after the third time and let her know that I didn't think it was appropriate to introduce adult concepts like "boyfriends and girlfriends" to a 3-year-old. I told her that we don't use those words in our house, and that I would appreciate it if she would refrain from those types of jokes.

She looked at me like I was from another planet. And I am: the old-school planet. I'm all about preserving a child's right to be a child. My children have never watched BET videos, and they listen to my pre-made kid CDs in the car. Unfortunately, that has made my children misfits in the world, especially when they often don't know the songs, dance moves or popular video games (but they're highly advanced readers, and writing and math whizzes).

When we get children worrying about what's on the outside -- instead of what's on the inside -- at such an early age, we set a dangerous precedent and send a damaging message about what really matters. When parenting young girls and boys, we need to get our focus back on character and not on clothes, personal power or pedicures; on self-worth instead of waxing. And then we will see how truly beautiful our children really are.

next: Eek! My Son Wanted to Use a Pink Baseball Glove
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
mollysmom:) May 3, 2010, 7:42 AM

i could not agree more! i get so irritated and sad when i see little girls hussied up like little mini me’s of their mothers who think it’s cute to dress alike. they’re children NOT adults, quit treating them like they are!! if children are exposed to adult themes at this age where is there for them to go developmentally?? it’s sad really.

Nancy May 3, 2010, 10:11 AM

Amen!!!! Let me say it again, AMEN!!! My husband and I often feel like we are also from another planet so your “lament” actually encourages me that we are not alone.

Black Iris May 3, 2010, 10:52 AM

Great article!!!
The funny thing is that our kids would rather be innocent.

Rita May 3, 2010, 2:28 PM

I’d just like to say a few things. While I do dress my child in current clothes, I stay away from revealing clothes. I have to look high and low just to find a one-piece for my 9 year old. My daughter is very intelligent and receives A’s and B’s in school, was reading at a 4th grade level at the end of 2nd grade last year (Lord knows what her level is now), is ridiculously excellent at math, science and excels at everything she does, but I still let her watch Hannah Montana and other Disney shows. She knows what is appropriate and what isn’t. I’d rather her ask me questions and have family discussions then shelter her from stuff she’ll encounter when she enters the real world and has to deal with it on her own.

Celeste May 3, 2010, 3:24 PM

Children don’t have any time or encouragement to be children. Kids nowadays have to juggle day-care, school and homework, piano, dance, soccer and karate lessons. We over-socialize them and don’t promote their own space and alone-time. If they dare daydream a bit too much or get frustrated sitting inside, at a desk quietly for HOURS, we tell them they are mentally ill and put them on Ritalin. With all our desires to retain the ‘innocence’ of childhood, our society dictates that all other childhood qualities are undesirable and unmanageable. Kids are merely keeping up with the world we serve them.

Kita May 3, 2010, 8:02 PM

My parents certianly didn’t expose me to a lot of adult movies/conversations/topics but I was very intelligent for my age, and was reading at a “college level” by the third or fourth grade (and so was my sister, and several friends I’ve made since then). What were they supposed to do to allow me to “retain my innocence?” Not let me read the books that kept my interest? Quashed my intelligence? It’s a conundrum I’m not sure how to solve.

OUTRAGED!!! May 7, 2010, 12:22 PM

I have to agree with some of your article but not all of it. Let me tell you why. My daughter is 14 and her father is VERY strict about what she wears. We see her friends come to our house wearing little bitty shorts etc. Will not happen at my house. Her shorts had better come to her knees. And the funniest thing about it all is if you were to look at her dad you would never think those rules come from him. He is a tattoo artist and has tattoos everywhere. He walks around in a tank top and jeans 99% of the time. My daughter has learned that she does not like the way her friends dress and she appreciates the fact that her daddy cares enough to not let her wear “slutty” clothes. Don’t get me wrong there have been a few fights about the clothes she has wanted to wear. For example she wanted to wear a tank top to a teen club the other night. It was a decent tank top not the spagetti strap kind. At first I said no way is your daddy going to let you wear that. She said “I know” but to our suprise he told her she could wear it. My point is that we as parents have to be really careful what we let our kids wear. It is rediculous to see a 12 year old in daisy dukes and mid-drift shirts. I don’t necessarly agree about turning off Hannah Montanna and Zack and Cody because they are starting to date or they are kissing. My 9 year old son watches these shows. He thinks it is gross when they kiss. He just wrinkles his nose and says “eeeewwwww” You can’t tell me that when you were a kid you didn’t watch Cosby show? They talked about dating and mom and dad kissed. You as parents just need to be open and honest with your kids. They are going to find out about these things anyway no matter how hard you try to protect them. You can’t shelter them from everything, so instead of making these things tabboo make yourself an open channel for your kids to come to.

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