October 24, 2018

Childhood Is Not Simple

        I heard a pop song yesterday in which the lyrics celebrated the “simplicity” of childhood, and I was excessively irritated.  I hate songs like that!  The thing is, children don’t find their lives simple.  Condescending adults may think it’s not really a big deal to have an argument with your friend or family, or to have trouble understanding your homework, or even to be told (if you’re even younger) that you have to wait until you get home before you can have lunch.  But children’s difficulties are just as big a deal to children as adults’ problems are to adults.  If you want to wax nostalgic about how simple your life was as a child, that’s fine, but don’t expect any children to understand or agree.  Children experience all the same emotions as adults: grief, stubbornness, joy, rage, pride, hopelessness, love, irritability, aspiration…  Moreover, because time stretches longer for them, they are even less able than adults to see to the end of a crisis or understand that this, too, shall pass.  The younger a child is, the more difficulty she’ll have in modulating the intensity of her emotions, or knowing what to do with them, but that also shouldn’t be taken to mean that children themselves are simple.  Being human, they are creatures every bit as complex as adults, who have to be exceptionally creative and adaptable in coming up with strategies to deal with their complicated and often bewildering universe - which just so happens to be exactly the same universe that adults inhabit.  In short, every week in a child’s life may be full of drama, dragons, epic quests, victories, and defeats.
        So, why do I share this little dollop of pop psychology?  Simply to say that those people who romanticize the “simplicity” of childhood may be able to score hits writing sentimental pop songs for their fellow sentimental adults, but they absolutely should never attempt to write for children.  To write for children it is necessary to take children seriously, to acknowledge the reality and validity of the challenges they face, and to give them credit for being able to respond to challenges with courage, creativity, and resilience.  Sometimes it takes true heroism to hold it together until you get home for lunch.

[Picture: Children Playing, woodcut by Feliciano Peña, n.d. (Image from Smithsonian American Art Museum).]

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