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Commentary: Lamenting the Death of Childhood

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I have a serious gripe about the childhood experience in the new millennium. 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.
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