Once upon a time, there were children.
They were carefree little tykes who played with dolls and toy trucks, went to school to learn their lessons and did what their mothers, fathers, and teachers told them to do. At night, their parents read them bedtime stories and they fell asleep dreaming of knights and princesses. Children loved their parents and knew that Mom and Dad would always be there in the morning. Of course, children got into trouble sometimes, but only because they were naturally mischievous, not because they were downright wicked.
Think hard. Do you remember children?
In this era of fast-lane living, it’s difficult to believe that childhood once did exist as an innocent age of Tom Sawyer exploits and happy, golden days.
What has happened? Has childhood as a time to be remembered fondly vanished forever?
Here are some statistics about childhood in the United States:
- Of all persons arrested for a serious crime, 1 out of 3 is a minor. And no offense is too outrageous to imagine – children have robbed, raped, and killed.
- Many kids have replaced candy and bubble gum with drugs. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 27% of children aged 12 to 17 have smoked marijuana at least once.
- The rate of adolescent suicide has risen dramatically over the last two decades. According to the U.S. Public Health Service statistics, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents.
- By age 15, many youngsters have already engaged in sexual intercourse. And unwanted pregnancy isn’t the only price adolescents pay for promiscuity, according to statistics from The Centers for Disease Control.
If this is what’s happened to childhood, where have we gone wrong? Are we responsible because we’re forcing children to grow up too soon?
There’s little doubt that our changing priorities and values have had a significant negative effect on children. If kids are engaging in adult vices, perhaps it’s because they’re being forced to accept adult responsibilities. It’s not uncommon today for a 6 year-old child to have his own key that opens a door to an empty house in which he prepares his own dinner. Nor is it unusual for young children to log thousands of miles each year jetting between separated or divorced parents.
“We treat kids as though they’re grown-up when they’re only ten years old. We believe we’re preparing them for life in the real world, but we’re harming them more than we’re helping them,” says Jean Rosenbaum M.D.
The increasing divorce rate and the growing number of single-parent or two-career families are accountable for children being left at home without supervision and, more importantly, without role models. Is it surprising then that youngsters turn to television as a babysitter and for role models?
If childhood is to make a comeback, experts agree that adults must assume their responsibilities as parents… This means being able to set house rules and to restrict the influences that their children are exposed to. Parents should supervise TV viewing and fire the tube as a regular babysitter.
“This is difficult and it requires an amount of attention most parents aren’t prepared to devote to child-rearing. Children are not little adults. They need to be treated differently, to learn discipline and to develop respect for themselves and others,” says Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood.
He offers parents this simple guideline: “The longer children are allowed to mature, the more mature they will become. There is no crash course on maturity.”
(These are excerpts from an article written by I. E. Thompson in 1984)