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Saturday
Apr122014

Face It: Childhood Wasn’t That Great

Deep down, you know the truth: Childhood didn’t exactly satisfy.

  • Children get no respect. Adults see your opinions and desires as cute, not legitimate. You can’t buy something in a store or order something over the phone. The adult on the other end of the transaction doesn’t trust you.
  • Children have no autonomy. As a child, you do whatever your parents demand and desire. You go where they go. You eat what they want you to eat. You play with other people you don’t like because your parents spend time together. You can’t legally labor for funds (other than chores for allowances), so you have no money with which to do anything. With your allowance, you can only buy what your parents allow you to buy. You can’t drive. After a certain hour, most cities and towns require you to stay inside unless you have an accompanying adult (or the police will confiscate you). In fact, if you go almost anywhere without an adult, people will look at you with concern (or suspicion).
  • Children face unparalleled peer pressure. Adults don’t live in states of constant anxiety that people think them cool or, at minimum, won’t make fun of them or shun them. Adults have built enough life experience and self-esteem to reject most peer pressure. Adults rarely do things they truly don’t want to do simply because their peer group does them.
  • Children have limited self-knowledge. Adults know themselves—their stances, thinking, feelings—well enough to feel confident about decisions and choices. Children, still evolving, don’t know themselves well enough to know how to react or behave—and they still castigate themselves for every flaw and quirk that doesn’t conform to the norm or the cool.
  • Children suffer awkwardness extraordinaire. Children go through gangly and puffy growth spurts and acne and braces. Also, as they have no autonomy, their parents often style their hair badly and put them in ridiculous clothing.
  • Children cannot defend themselves. Adults can take advantage of children emotionally and physically. To defend themselves legally, children need an adult proxy. Physically, children rarely have the strength and the weight to defend against a bigger human.
  • Children have limited perspective. You learn what teachers make you learn, but you don’t know enough to put it in context or truly understand it. The world makes no sense most of the time. You take everything for granted. Things that happen in school—from grades to interpersonal relations—excessively elate or devastate because you have nothing else against which to compare them. You have a claustrophobic, limited world view.

Completely forgetting the actual experience—perhaps befuddled by Hollywood portrayals—we think of childhood as a time of simplicity, magic, joy, and bliss. But childhood wasn’t simple or carefree—not in the moment. Only in retrospect.

Sure, childhood has its positives: You don’t have to pay electric bills, for example. But I’d rather pay an electric bill than have limited autonomy and respect. I’d rather go to a job I love and earn money I can spend at my discretion than feel powerless.

Do you romanticize childhood? Why?

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