What is childhood? Why do we treat children differently than adults? This is a point that we as a society and loving parents need to open up and look at, for the way that we have come to treat kids as ‘normal’ is something that too often goes unquestioned and unnoticed.
Like myself and many others, when you encounter a child, you may adjust your behavior in reaction to their presence. You may become kinder, gentler, speak in a more lovely tone of voice, even become a bit of a character to give off an air of pleasantness. We often revere children for their innocence as being beautiful and as such we tend to want to treat them like gold, to shelter them from the negativity of the world and give them a very positive experience.
This point of (reacting to) the innocence of children eventually takes on a life of it’s own, where the extent of the desire to shelter children goes as far as literally hiding the reality of the world from their eyes as censorship, and then even as far as creating illusory fantasy worlds and make-believe stories, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
The way that we view children as innocent is primarily an association that is made with their underdeveloped skill-sets, primarily in language skills. However, this lack of skill development and therefore understanding of the world does not speak to their potential – children are just as capable of learning effectively about their world as you and I, and this includes their ability to reason and assess their world critically – it is just an ability less seen because we tend to make a further correlation between their lack of development with, essentially, a lack of potential – we often treat children as not capable, as ‘not ready’. In this way we sell our children short, believing on a deeper level that they are incapable – stupid.
Obviously this couldn’t be further from the truth, as the amazing ability of children to learn and adapt shows us – if anything, this way that we treat children is more a reflection of ourselves, and our own ability to give children the education and tools necessary to be able to understand and direct their world without being easily influenced. Because we ourselves were never given these tools, we discount how easy it is for ourselves to be influenced by the world around us, and within lacking this self-directive principle, we fear that the same thing will happen to our children.
Why do children watch ‘children’s programs’ and read ‘children’s’ books and tell them ‘children’s stories’ and teach them ‘children’s songs’ that essentially condescend to them and treat them as less than ourselves? It divides adults and children the same way that media that is directed exclusively at one race or gender divides people from each other. It is simply another way of categorizing and separating a group of people from the rest of humankind, to say how they are apparently different and thus should be treated differently, with different rights – the difference however, is that children really cannot stand up for themselves, they can not produce social activists or lawyers to fight for them, they are at the mercy of we as adults and parents to stand up for their rights – in this case a right to simply be treated as an equal to other humans in terms of their intellectual capacity and human potential.
From a young age, I resented being condescended to by adults, I did not enjoy people speaking to me slowly, as if I am not intelligent enough to understand speech at a regular pace. I did not enjoy adults speaking to me in lovely tones of voice, like I was an idiot with no real understanding of all facets of life, including it’s darker side. I did not enjoy adults lying to me about things like Santa Claus, like I was stupid enough to believe anything they would tell me. Unfortunately a child’s lack of understanding of their reality does keep them at the mercy of only being as good as what they are informed by, and so children will believe what they are told. For a human race with a cultural disposition that is as hell bent on power, control and greed, children become the easiest targets for us as adults to mold into whatever we want them to be, and too often I have seen children become nothing but pawns and accessories to the ‘perfect life’ that is envisioned by their parents. In a narcissistic culture, everyone feels better about themselves when they have their own personal slave, their own personal pawn that they can have as much power and control over as possible: what better opportunity than to have children? Of course very few are ever honest enough to admit this to themselves, and we cover up the truth of how we treat children as complete subordinates and inferiors, with all kinds of beautiful ideas like love, or justifications that it is in their best interest.
In the ‘bigger picture’, this point of sheltering children as much as possible through the creation of what we call ‘childhood’ – which is this world of media and social interaction that children are immersed in – ends up producing adults that are severely handicapped when it comes to ‘facing the real world’. For many, when the illusion of childhood is broken and reality surfaces, it is a great shock, and the reaction is far worse than had it been if we had simply not hidden our children from reality – through the trauma of this contrast, many become disillusioned and jaded. Furthermore, placing children in this fake world of fairy tales and unrealities where they deal with virtually nothing of the real world and are required to make no real significant decisions and take no real responsibility for themselves and their world, we then create an entire adult population of people who are not capable of taking self responsibility for themselves and their world. They would rather crawl back into the illusion and remain hidden there – that is how ‘Peter Pan syndrome’ is created, never wanting to grow up, because as children we become addicted to this experience of childhood, where we essentially lived like God’s in some kind of fantasy heaven – and yet ironically, this is a ‘golden cage’ of enslavement, where we are dis-empowered from our birthright as self responsible and capable human beings, with unlimited potential. With exposure to media happening at younger and younger ages due to technological advancements, and people being immersed in more and more media than ever before, it becomes more and more difficult for we as adults to not be influenced by the fantasy realities that are presented, let alone for children who are encouraged to live in a world of fantasy.
I still sometimes catch myself changing my demeanor when speaking to children, reacting to their innocence, which I have been programmed by my culture to naturally react this way to their presence – to be extra kind – but this is fake, it is not real, no matter how nice the lie may seem or how well intended it is. It is an insult to their intelligence and a disrespect to who they are as human beings and an impairment to who they will become as adults. Childhood is a creation, created in our inability and unwillingness to take self responsibility for our own lives and the lives of our children to properly educate them, to properly direct them, to properly put in the time to ensure that they become the strong, intelligent and independent beings that they are capable of being, that we are all capable of being, if only we would give that to ourselves first. In our abdication of ourselves as self responsible beings, we go on ‘autopilot’ and simply follow the trends of what a ‘typical parent does’ and because it is normal, because it is commonplace, we are able to justify this to ourselves. But then, eventually when problems arise in our families, in our society: we wonder what went wrong. We do we live in a world of incompetent and corrupt human beings? Why do we live in a culture of greed, selfishness and self interest? Why do we live in a society of hedonists and addicts, only concerned with their own personal escapes and feelings of happiness?
Childhood is a creation that – due to it being installed in the earliest and most critical years of a persons education – remains with us at a subconscious level as we grow older, in terms of its essential tenets of a low level of intellectuality, no concern with self responsibility, and a penchant to focus on the unreal, on that which is illusory. In some culture, this mentality of ‘childhood’ is even glorified, with willful ignorance and incompetence being lauded as traits to be aspired to.
Let’s give children what they deserve and require, let’s learn to treat them as real beings, just as capable as ourselves, as equals to ourselves. Let’s give to them what may have never been given to us. As we grow older and the next generation takes over the reins of our world, it is our only hope that our future is one that is entrusted in the hands of those who will do us well, when we find ourselves in reversed roles one day, being at the mercy of their decisions. If we do not, we cannot expect good things of our future and the future of mankind, on the contrary, everything will continue to get worse for our human race, which still struggles to grow up out of it’s infancy.