Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Childhood Space

Ada and I have been looking at Halloween costume catalogs lately. And I'm a little concerned. Kids' clothes are sized roughly by age, and size 8/10 seems to be a breaking point. "Kids" costumes come sized up to size 8/10, but from size 8/10 on up, every costume is skintight with a micro mini skirt. (Ellie wears a size 6.) And then there's Miley Cyrus and that whole pole dance thing (choreographed with her daddy so it must be OK). And it's not just sex.

We treat little kids like big kids and big kids like adults. Kindergartners listen to pop music and love Hannah Montana and Britney Spears. Fourth graders bring cell phones to elementary school. Families watch sitcoms and movies together that are clearly meant for teens and adults rather than very young children. The advertisements during shows like American Idol are unfit for viewers at any age.

High school teachers get in trouble for critiquing when girls' low-rise jeans expose inches of thong, so one teacher I know hands students a lab coat without comment, expecting them to cover up in class but too afraid of repercussions to be more direct about the problem. Cell phones might not be allowed in class but are ubiquitous. Kids - and their parents, who call to chat during school hours - don't see why this is a problem.

It's sex and body image, it's respect, it's being unplugged long enough to experience the world around you, it's forming identity, it's values, it's education, it's childhood.

Imagine my joy when my daughter's kindergarten teacher started her curriculum night presentation with this quote:

"This time in their lives is just a whisper, a brief moment in which they can enjoy the richness of a childhood space."
-Beverly Bos

Yes. Yes. Yes!

In her classroom, children play. They learn, they follow rules. But they're allowed to be kids. Little kids. Because that's what they are and who they should be.

"Kindergarten looks different from first grade," the teacher said. "Kindergarten feels different from first grade. And kindergarten definitely sounds different from first grade."

My first baby is out on her own in a significant way this year, but she couldn't be in a better place.

I left curriculum night and headed to my friend's house for book club while listening to On Point with Tom Ashbrook. The episode was called Raising Well-Rounded Kids and the guest was Marybeth Hicks, author of Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World. Geeks is Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids, by the way.

The discussion dovetailed perfectly with curriculum night.

It's easy to get sucked along with what everyone around us is doing. And with Ellie being Ellie, we have a little extra pressure to help her conform, to want her to be accepted by her peers. But our job as parents isn't to make our kids happy all the time. Our job is to teach them the values we feel are important. To protect their childhoods by respecting them where they are and not treating them like small adults. To resist the urge to give them too much, allow them too much, push them too much.

All that takes engagement and energy. Good night!


Barrie said...

This was the perfect time for me to read this post. I'm trying to figure out with child #4 which sports she'd like to do. And I'm determined to not over-extend her. Thank you.

RobMonroe said...

I'm so glad that Abby can be little for a while longer - not to have to go costume shopping with her and deal with Ms Cyrus.

Glad that you've gotten Ellie into a place where she can be a kid!!

Krupskaya said...

It's not just Halloween costumes that are a problem at size 8/10, of course. It's regular clothes. I have a hell of a time finding clothes for Maia, who is tall and build like a, well, hockey player (like, 80 pounds). But I rather relish the challenge.

Sarahlynn said...

Barrie, I find that so hard. Later, I'm sure it will be a tug of war between everything my kids want to do and my struggle not to over-program them. Now I'm the one deciding what they do (gymnastics? dance? curling?) and what if I'm making the wrong decisions and ruining everything?!

Rob, Abby's still little because of how you're raising her. Some parents put soda in bottles, dress their infants as The Little Mermaid (complete with shell bra), and teach their toddlers to swear. All that - not so much you and Anny as parents. :-)

Krupskaya, shudder. I've noticed that - even at SIZE 6 - the shirts have gathering on the chest to suggest (or allow for) the presence of breasts. What is wrong with our society?

I remember blogging when Ellie was 2 that I had to buy her boy shorts at Old Navy because girl shorts were so tiny her diaper hung out the back.