Wake up time, children are not adults

Early in January I wrote about self-esteem. I stated, “My most common question is to ask a student if she thinks she is a good person and I let her ponder that awhile. It’s often quite a struggle for a young person to  answer that for an adult and may take some time to evolve, but that is the ultimate root of self-esteem. You have to believe in your worth.  In fact, worthless is a word regularly bandied about by those with a low self-image.”

Last week, the clothing chain Abercrombie and Fitch released a line of padded swimsuits for girls as young as eight years of age.  There has been a backlash  to this concept from some parents, of course, as the incessant marketing of  adult-oriented expectations to ever-younger children has become a siren call for sanity in the world of sales. There are plenty of demons to go around in this attack on childhood.

The movie industry constantly promotes youthful promiscuity and the “need” for attachment and being attractive to the opposite sex.

Sexuality on television and in music videos floods the minds of our children with body images, morality  and clothing styles that are anything but child-like.  Marketing executives have come to the realization that there is a huge amount of discretionary spending  power in young children and that sewing the seeds of early adulthood in youngsters is both easy to do and a powerful motivation to separate them from  their money.

The messages our children, and particularly our daughters, are constantly fed  are that they need to have perfect bodies, make-up and behaviours to recruit and  retain good boyfriends, generally portrayed as being lean, sporty, wealthy and,  of course, well dressed.

Without such attributes, and attraction powers, the  girls are simply not going to be happy, or in the terminology I used a few weeks  ago, worthy of a mate.

I think this challenge of social acceptability has existed for thousands of years as young people have gone through the “mating” phase of life by presenting themselves as a decent catch for the opposite sex.

What has changed in recent years is the movement of this social and mating pecking order from late high  school teens to early elementary children.  We have heaped a lot of social pressure on to younger children, resulting in higher and earlier  levels of eating disorders, social anxieties and teen depression.

I refer to the royal “we” in the comment above because as easy as it is to identify the outside demons in this shift of values, the reality is that we, as parents, are part of the problem. We have given our young children the freedom to choose and the economic buying power to make them targets. We have accepted ever-lowering standards of moral behaviour in television programming and given our children televisions or computers in their own room to watch whatever they  want.  We’ve given them devices to listen to, and 24-hour-a-day access  to, music that is often inappropriate and clearly influential.  In other words, we’ve put them into an adult world, then reeled a bit when they have taken to it like fish to water.

Children are not adults, either physically or emotionally.  If we thrust them into an adult world, they will feel unworthy and their  inability to live up to the adult standards around them will likely create  significant stress in the short run and self-esteem issues for a lot longer.

Parents need to coalesce around the notion that a childhood is something worth maintaining until at least the entrance to high school.

I guarantee you that if a 100,000 parents of Grade 5 girls wrote  letters to Abercrombie and Fitch, saying they would permanently boycott their products if they didn’t pull these padded swimsuits from their offerings, you’d  see a lot more action out of the company than everyone simply reading a few  columns of indignation and then letting their kids go to the mall and buy  whatever they want while tweeting on their cell phones about the “cool” adult things they are doing.


Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at ghookey@yahoo.com.