Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Myth of a Carefree Childhood

Tell Me Your Story Tuesday

The Myth of a Carefree Childhood

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that read: 
I just want to be 10 years old again with no worries in the world. 
If I remember correctly, it was accompanied by a picture of a child on a bike, riding with no hands, or some other heart-swelling image of nostalgia. 
Several comments followed about the carefree, joyousness of childhood. 
Youth is wasted on the young and similar cliches. 
The same faulty rhetoric people feed teenagers when they declare, 
"Enjoy high school. It's the best years of your life."
Trust me, if high school was the best years of my life, 
I would have snapped and gone running naked down the street a long time ago. 

It's all lies. 

Because, you know what? 

I live with a ten year old. 

A smart, beautiful girl who does well in school, has close friends, as well as  a strong family that loves her fiercely... And, she worries about everything
Not just about how she looks or if her favorite Disney Channel couple is going to stay together. 
She worries about the little girl who stole her snack from her locker because
 "Why would she need to steal food, mom?" 
She worries about her friends when others tease them. 
She worries about the boy her sister likes not being nice enough for her. 
She worries about what the country will be like for her children. 
(No, I'm not exaggerating.)

The idea that childhood is this blissful, free of stress, time is absurd.
 At no other point in your life are you in such confusing situations 
with such little control over your own destiny.  

I remember laying in bed at night, unable to shut off my mind. 

My mom probably remembers having to call my third grade teacher at home  because I couldn't stop crying. The teacher had made a boy stand in the trashcan as a punishment during class. I was so humiliated for him that I couldn't sleep and so scared of getting the teacher in trouble, it took my mom a good hour to get out of me why I was sobbing uncontrollably. 

That's the carefreeness of childhood. 

When adults look back through the rose-colored glasses, they discount the overwhelming pressure of that time in a child's life. 

By the time I was my daughter's age:
  • My parents were separated for the third or fourth time.
  • I had lived in three states in three years. 
  • I knew what drugs were.
  • I knew what alcoholism looked like. 
  • I had sat at the graveside of someone I loved. 
  • I had vague information about what sex would be and the thought was pretty terrifying. 
My life was far from stress-free. And, I wouldn't consider my childhood to be "bad". It just was. 

Children deserve for adults to respect the their emotions, ease their fears with out belittling them and offer empathy and compassion. 

Not just a patronizing pat on the head and a wistful, 
"Oh, when I was your age..."

So, tell me your story. 
Do you remember your childhood as all sno-cones and games of tag? 
Do you think people romanticize those early years? 
Is high school ever the best years of someone's life? 


Teri Anne Stanley said...

Wow, that's a lot to think about!
I think our daughters may be twins, separated by five years and a few hundred miles, because she was very similar--still is...and I guess I was, too. Nothing much bad had happened to me, but boy was I a "feeler".

I do remember middle and high school as a good time, but that was after an angst filled K-6 experience that WAY more than paid my dues forward.

I wonder if those of us who remember that time so vividly might not be well served to write more YA...

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

My childhood wasn't awful, but I went through a lot of bad experiences, both at home and at school.

The fact is, I'm happier and more carefree now than I ever was as a child. Because I am in charge of my own life, and if something bothers me, I have the power to say "no." I can walk away from a person who makes me uncomfortble. I can respond if someone threatens me.

I was bullied in school. I used to wonder if I'd ever be any good at anything, because I sure wasn't good at schoolwork. I was frightened and angry and lonely. While I had a small number of friends and never wanted for anything, it was a time when I was happy in spite of being a child, not because of it. Above all, I felt powerless. I longed for the day when I was grown-up and could find my own solutions to problems.

The worst of it is, there's not a lot a parent can do about it. Childhood is simply the time in our lives when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable, and there's a whole world out there designed to analyse, categorise and shape us the way it wants to. Children need help every step of the way to not only enjoy the good times, but also to learn that they will one day be powerful, and able to take charge of their own lives.

Dawn Alexander said...

Very well stated, Paul. That last paragraph is so true.

Teri~ I've considered writing YA, but since I deal with teenagers all day, I need a break from that world. :)