Saturday, December 18, 2010

Making Children Old Before Their Time

Working in an elementary school (K-6th grade), an acquaintance of mine reported dealing with the following issues: a girl drunk in the restroom, three boys with matches trying to set a fire, a boy with a knife, a girl sent home for showing too much skin, a girl asking how she could get a pregnancy test, a boy with bruises from a beating at home, two boys with marijuana in their lockers, etc.  Remember when kids 10-12 years old were kids and schools seemed to be a safe place?  Schools today are often a miniature arena for the problems affecting our culture as a whole.

One of the biggest problems is that children are no longer children – they are small adults.  With that comes the kind of problems and issues adults face.  Eight year old girls going on 21 and ten year old boys acting like street wise adults.  Medical researchers have already labeled early physical development as precocious puberty and are telling us that more and more kids are developing physically 1-2 years earlier than just a decade ago.  Our kids are growing up too fast and we are doing little to slow down this rush.

We tell kids to act their age when we mean to act older than they are and they are listening.  The clothes they wear, the things they want to do, and the trouble they get in is the kind of stuff which used to be found in high school.  Now it is found in middle schools and elementary schools.  We expect our kids to act like adults but without all the privileges of adulthood.  They are home alone or on their own yet lack the maturity to make good decisions amid all the choices available to them on TV, internet, etc.  The music they listen to has adult themes.  The images they see on TV and on the internet are filled with sexual innuendo and overt sexuality – even graphic displays of things we as parents do not think they are ready for.  But who is telling them to just be kids?

We press them into choosing a career when they ought to be choosing toys.  We dress them up as small versions of adults.  We give them access to all kinds of dangerous things and do not speak to them about those dangers.  We do not monitor their activity.  We do not talk to them as kids.  So they act like they dress, try things they are too young to make informed judgements about, and listen to their peers more than anyone else.  And we are not helping!

What can we do?

1.    Understand the culture.  Familiar yourself with the world your kids live in and the pressures and temptations they face.
2.    Protect their youth.  Be a good gatekeeper on their minds and hearts.  Give them the permission to be kids.  Give them the space and time to play like kids and then watch over them.
3.    Listen to them.  Not just to their words, but listen to what they are saying (and not saying).  Keep the conversation going so that you retain an influence in their lives or your silence will be tacit permission that they can do what they want.
4.    Cultivate a healthy self-respect.  Be supportive and share with them how valuable they are to you.  Tell them what God has done for them and endow them with the best self-esteem of all – the one that comes from knowing “I am a child of God!”
5.    Address their concerns.  If they have something that is important to them, address it but do it in a manner appropriate to their age and maturity.
6.    Don’t be obsessed with your own self.  Kids get their cues from us.  If we stress out over how we look, what we want, how we feel, etc... they will do the same.  Live life easily.
7.     Treat them like kids.  Even if they are developing early, don’t forget that they are still kids.  Dating, make up, going to the mall alone, dressing like an adult, having a lot of money – these need to wait.  It is not cute to treat kids like adults.  It is a recipe for disaster!
8.    Set limits.  Make sure kids know where the lines are drawn – in behavior, vocabulary, attitude, etc...  It may be hard on you but it will be great for them if you know how to set age appropriate limits and stick to them.
9.    Live in today.  We all tell stories “when I was your age...” but the world is different.  Kids growing up today are dealing with things their parents and grandparents never imagined.  Yesterday’s world is gone but there is another alternative other than surrendering to all that is today.  Make wise choices and equip your kids to made wise choices.  And don’t rush them into adulthood.  Let them be kids for as long as they are kids.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think you leave out the most important thing to do - train them in the ways of making decisions and being responsible.

Even as we see kids growing up faster and faster, the age when we expect them to be accountable and self-sufficient is pushed further and further back. A few decades ago you were expected to be responsible enough to make it on your own at 18. Now it's common to push off responsibility until the mid 20s, it seems.

This is an especially dangerous combination, because as you point out, kids are getting put into situations where they have to make responsible choices at an earlier and earlier age. We don't need to simply set limits but teach them how and why limits are set, so they can learn to set their own.

+ + + + + + + +

Of course, I think I'd be more apt to say that we should get our children to mature into responibility - but "grow up"? Well, I think 50 year olds need to take time to play and have fun. Instead of rushing into the "adult" world (and yes, I intend the double meaning), we all might want to simply enjoy silliness and goofiness every once in a while.

Don't tell them to grow up - tell them to know when they need to be responsible.

Melissa said...

I wonder how much of this is tied to fatherlessness. I heard a statistic regarding girls and early onset of puberty when fathers are not present.

Also, as we meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:11 "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." might we understand that this verse speaks of piety in adulthood. That being childish is not sinful, but a normal part of development..."faith like a child, etc."

The problem isn't that children are acting too piously adult, but being sucked into, as you say Pastor Peters, things that they simply cannot make informed decisions about.

I dunno, it can be scary, but trusting in God's promises and strength to help us as parents to teach our children in the faith is something that ought not be taken lightly.

Anonymous said...

As a parent you have to make a wise
choice on how your child spends their
time in high school. The temptation
is to let them find a part time job
during the school year. As a parent
I would not let my child work, I
wanted her to study hard and get good
grades in the high honors track and
get an academic scholarship for
college. Also I wanted her to have
time for our parish youth group and
do community work in Key Club.

It paid off as she got a high ACT
score and good scholarship for
college and graduated with high

If you let your child work during
the school year, then they become
less inclined to do their best in
the classroom when working 20 hour
week at McDonalds or Pizza Hut or

Having a 20 hour a week part time
job in high school makes money more
important than grades. So be
careful about monitoring your teens
after school activities.