Saturday, April 25, 2009

Innocence Lost

Kids are part of my background noise. I'm surrounded by them just about every day. Kids of all ages, personalities, intelligence, ethnicities, religions, likes, dislikes, with every combination you can imagine. Since I have two boys, I get to see and know a lot of other boys in the 7- to 14-year-old range. I'm around them where they learn, play, relax, and just be themselves. And they talk to me.

I overhear them when they don't realize their voices carry, and I observe them when they're angry, hurt, happy, mischievous, tired, and every other possible emotion. 

These are boys who aren't in a traditional educational setting. They have the luxury of growing up without being bombarded by the commercialism and peer pressure of your typical school. For the most part, they've grown up with the freedom to learn who they are at their own pace. They've been able to develop emotionally and socially at the speed that's the most comfortable and natural to them.

These boys play with sticks, build with Legos, make forts, play hide and seek, chase each other, hit trees with sticks, swing on vines, dig holes, play cards, play chess, turn sticks into weapons (do you see a "stick" pattern here?), play video games, play RuneScape, tell fart jokes, wrestle, kick balls around, read books, make maps, and generally goof off.

What don't they do? Well, before the age of 12 or so they don't obsess about girls. Not one - not one - has used the word "hot" to describe a girl. Or "sexy." Not one of them is "girl crazy." My sons tell me that this is indeed true.

So why is it that on television and in movies just about all boys in this age range are focused to some extent on girls? And in some shows, they're not just focused, they're obsessed! (Have you seen the Suite Life of Zack and Cody? I won't dignify it with a link.)

In my world, when boys are allowed to grow and develop at their own pace, that interest in girls doesn't come until later - sometimes much later.

So why the disparity?

My own theory is that it's the basic human need to fit in with a tribe. For virtually all of human history, individuals without a tribe died. We needed our village to survive - whether it be to share child rearing, help bring down kill, or simply interact. Our need to be a part of something bigger is a drive that is so strong that we can't see past it.

It breaks my heart to see kids feel like they have to be something they're not in order to fit in. In most kids' "tribes," they need to be older than their brains and bodies are ready for. And it's not just the sexual stuff. Think of sports and academics. The son of a good friend of mine broke his back in gymnastics when he was 8. This wasn't due to an accident. This was a stress fracture - doing something that was beyond the limits of his body. That's pretty sad. But you know what the really sad thing was? The doctor said this wasn't unusual; it was becoming more and more common with kids that age who practice competitive gymnastics. 

What are we doing to our children?

What's wrong with letting them be kids? They get to be kids for such a short time.

Our children today are blasted from all sides by television shows, movies, and commercials where 10-year-old boys are girl crazy and where 10-year-old girls want to be "sexy." (Bratz, anyone?)

But mostly, they get it from their peers. How sad that "normal" is actually abnormal. 

One example sticks out in my mind. A couple of years ago S was in a play, The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet (S is in the yellow and orange dress in that link), that toured to a few elementary schools. After the performance, the cast was available for questions from the audience, namely the elementary students. One student piped up and asked a question of Juliet (in the pink dress), "Can I get your number?" This kid couldn't have been older than 11, and Juliet was about 16. Does anyone else think that's abnormal (though not unusual)?

Let me say that I am not one of those parents who wants to shelter their kids from "real life" (whatever that is). I am not a parent who wants to keep her kids in a cocoon. Just the opposite - I want my kids to be amply prepared for the world when they leave home. We talk about sex, about relationships, about any adult topic you can think of. Nothing is off limits, because I believe that education is power ... and freedom.

I simply want them to be comfortable with themselves and develop at their own pace. Not the pace that their friends, and even worse, marketers tell them to.

When I see a 12-year-old boy play hide-and-seek with a girl, or when a 10-year-old boy is interested in a girl because she has some cool Yu-Gi-Oh cards to trade, it warms my heart. The time for that first spark of interest will come, as it should. But in my world it will come when the kids are ready, not when the rest of the world tells them they are.


  1. This reminds me of a story I heard just today at our school campout. One 8 year old boy (AP family) was told by a cute girl in his class that he was the hottest boy in the class, and he came and told his mom, thinking it was because he wore jeans every day, so maybe that was why she thought he was hot. He did not know what it meant to "be hot" !

  2. LOVE it. I once read this book about the social lives of kids, wish I remember what it was called. Interesting. Anyway, it was talking about all the playground politics that go on, both the bullying and some of the stuff you mentioned, and the author stopped to comment that he has heard from homeschoolers on multiple occasions that their kids aren't like that. Now, not to say this kind of thing NEVER happens with homeschoolers, but I think that because they're not constantly pressured to conform to the group, they're able to, say, maintain a vivid interest in American Girl dolls instead of High School Musical. Which at age 8? Is TOTALLY APPROPRIATE.
    I often wonder what kind of stuff we'd be dealing with if our kids were in ps.

  3. Sigh...I am so with you on this one. I feel so deeply that we must give our kids the time and space to develop naturally and holistically, without all of the artificial garbage dumped on them by some supposed "normal" culture. WE are normal, my dear. Asking for someone's number and calling people "hot" is NOT. It's absurd and unnatural. I think our kids will have a much better handle on sexuality and will own it in a much truer and healthier way.