I had an incredible discussion with another #soccermom the other day. The conversation meandered onto the topic of how we infantilize our children these days and how different it was when we were young. We talked about the things we did long ago and more importantly, the character traits and skills we developed because of these differences. We went on to identify some of the ways that behavior has inadvertently carried over into other things that were just silly… How the loss of “coming home when the street lights come on” seems to have carried over into children who don’t use knives to cut their own food at age 12.
And that’s changed our kids… and their behavior…
In fact, I believe it’s actually changed our nation and culture such that we’re starting to see a clear separation between “those who are responsible to make decisions” and “those who need to be told what to do” even amongst adults. It’s disturbing.
What happens when you unlock maturity? When you decide to allow your child to do the things that they are actually able to do when they are actually able to do them without having to pass some arbitrary age or grade or what-have-you? Well, I can tell you first hand that some of the poor behavior that people accept and blame on ages and stages of life either lessen or disappear completely.
Here’s what I find interesting: a mother recently shared worry that her 5yo was not yet reading. How is it that we would press children into developmentally inappropriate academic activities but won’t let children of the same age do more responsible things that they are capable of at this age–like setting a table with actual glasses and porcelain or ceramic plates and silverware.
Somewhere along the way, we have managed to see our children as far more adult in ways they are incapable; and far more infantile in the areas where they are completely capable.
The backlash is a lot of power struggle fighting. Children want to move forward and do what they are capable of doing. They want to be independent. They may not get it perfectly, but they are ready to try and instead we pat them on the head and say “No, no, dear… you need to do this very boring and tedious thing that you cannot even find rationale for doing at this point.”
Let’s take it a step further: what do these interactions do to the parent-child relationship? When a child can dress themselves or bathe themselves or use “real” tableware and are not permitted to do those things, they are backhandedly being told “I don’t believe you are cabable”. How will that child feel about their parents? About themselves? For some kids, they will simply be driven to prove the adults wrong. Some will take it in stride and decide that “someday” they will have that opportunity. But many will feel defeated and undervalued.
This is where the fighting starts.
Still, there’s more… Let’s set aside our kids reactions and feelings for a moment. What happens to our children as adults when we are doing more for our kids than we need to be? When we are shielding them from experiences that we will deem “too mature”? And how do you allow them to play violent video games but not allow them to have conversations with you and other adults? Where do they learn these skills and then where do they practice them to fluency? How do they do that before they are on their own?
Cooking, cleaning, navigating public transportation, managing their money, dealing with a difficult (possibly dangerous) situation, organizing their resources and spaces, having respectful adult conversations–when do our children start to get exposed to these things so that they can grow into doing them without our support or guidance?
It’s a process. First we take them or do for them to show them what needs to be done. We model for them. Then, we instruct them–maybe even do it side by side with them so they can see what they need to do without our doing it FOR them. Then we tag along with them as time goes on and their fluency builds. At some point, we are with them as their companions as opposed to their guardians.
But this takes a LOT of time.
How about the bigger issues of the world? Relationships? Sexuality? Politics? Mental health issues? Substance abuse? I know many parents that shield their children from these things and I’m astounded when I see a 12 or 13yo who is being purposefully sheltered from situations or conversations involving these topics or people involved in these things (where they are actually safe) and situations. Children need to be introduced to these ideas slowly and with caution. It takes many years to build a foundation mindset about these things. Wouldn’t you rather have a great deal of input and guidance on those matters? I have taken every opportunity I have to use song lyrics or observed behaviors in public or events of the world to introduce these ideas and topics to my children. I want them to start incorporating them into their lives and think about them so that in a year or so when they have a question–they are still living with me and I can answer it rather than have someone else that neither of us knows well answer it.
I’m building a foundation. And I find that the less I intellectually treat my children as children, the more their minds and responsibility levels grow such that they can advocate for themselves and tackle higher level learning with greater ease and fluency.
When will you see your child as a small person? Let it be today…