There’s a surprising new survey out of the UK that talks about how much faster kids are “growing up” than ever before. However, it’s not the idea that they’re growing up fast that is the part of the survey I find surprising. After all, one of my favorite songs of the 1970’s, Marc Jordan’s Survival, bemoans that kids “grow up so fast… they don’t even have the right tools for survival.”
For a British parenting website called “Netmums”, one out of ten parents believe that “childhood innocence” is gone by the age of 10, with seven out of ten saying their kids had lost any elements of being “childlike” by the age of 12. And what’s interesting to me is where they’re placing the blame. Among the culprits named: The Internet, the TV show Glee, Bratz dolls, inappropriate clothing like short skirts for seven year olds, and of course, peer pressure. Thankfully, rock and roll music was finally left out of one of these ridiculous lists.
Believe me, I’m with you if you nodded your head in agreement with some of these parents’ complaints. Do I think the marketing to kids is out of control? Sure it is, and there are many companies who make kids’ clothing, toys, TV shows and games who really should be ashamed of themselves. (Maybe one day, we’ll start calling them out by name.)
But here’s the problem with placing the blame where they have: We let ourselves off the hook to easily. You can complain all you want about The National Enquirer, or Rush Limbaugh, or the overwhelming pollution of junk food on our store shelves. The “inconvenient truth”, however, is that companies only produce what people buy. And in every single case these parents are outlining, they describe something as contributing to the problem that has at least two things in common with everything else on the list: One, people buy it or watch it in droves. No clothing company that wanted to stay afloat would make miniskirts for seven year olds unless they were flying off the store shelves. And second, and perhaps most inconvenient, is that every one of the items on the list could be rendered impotent by a parent who simply said, “No,” and meant it.
Want proof? Look at any Mennonite or Amish community and tell me the parents there are facing a similar problem. And before you throw up your hands and tell me there’s a difference in access, or culture, or whatever else, consider that the main difference is that the things this survey complains about never make it into those communities, for one reason, and one reason only: The adults say “No.”
Everything’s not lost
I’m not writing this so we can point fingers and place blame, although there’s certainly a lot of that to go around. Let’s try and find strategies together to help keep our children from growing up too fast. And I strongly encourage you to share the stuff that works for you – maybe we can help each other get back to the world we wanted our kids to live in.
Business guru Ted Rubin says that one of the most valuable lessons he learned from his kids is to skip around when things get tense. “Besides the physical benefits for both sexes, skipping also improves your mood. Just try it! I’m pretty sure that it will be impossible for you (or those around you) to stay angry or stressed after a skip around the block. In fact, don’t be surprised if you start laughing like a kid again after just a few hops.”
The bigger picture of this brilliant idea is that we don’t spend enough time being just plain silly with our children. In fact, you probably just looked at that last sentence and thought being silly would be a ridiculous way to spend time. But think about it – when’s the last time you and your kids had a sponge-and-bucket fight while you were washing the car? Or does the thought of it send you reeling about the mess, and the soaking wet clothes? If there’s not any kind of lasting negative consequence (last time I checked, washing things like hair and clothes involves getting them wet and soapy), who cares?
Or is the problem that you have forgotten how to be silly?
Peer pressure: Who’s really being influenced?
If you get your daughter a cell phone because she’s the only one in her class who doesn’t have one, your kid isn’t the one falling victim to peer pressure. If you find yourself lamenting “early onset adulthood”, do yourself a favour: Make a list – right now – of the things you believe your kid should or shouldn’t have, based on their age. Write down what works for you – not for the Kardashians, or the Olsens, or the cute kid who gets dropped off for playgroup in the stretch Hummer. Put the list on the fridge, or beside your computer, or wherever you can see it easily, and for crying out loud, stick to it. Because by making the list, you’ve taken the important step of deciding what you want for your child. Sure, “it takes a village,” but that doesn’t mean the village gets to push you around.
If you read my stuff on The Loop regularly, this might be what we could call the “Broken Record Point.” But I repeat it so many times because it’s so critically important. If your kids are mature enough (they think, and the village thinks) to entertain the idea of a computer in their own room, then they’re old enough to entertain the idea of a mature conversation about why you’re against it, and why it’s not going to happen in your house right now. I’m suggesting a conversation that goes far deeper than “Because I said so!”
The more you’re a welcomed element of your child’s life, the more influence you’ll have. And the better you are at communicating – which includes listening just as much as talking – the more they’ll seek out your guidance, and respect your opinions.