What about childhood?

Children’s laureate Jacqueline Wilson has recently expressed her concern about children growing up too quickly. This was in the light of a survey that saw 55% of respondents saying they thought childhood was over by eleven. Wilson’s claims are interesting in that she admits that the characters in her novels are children aspiring to behave as adults. Whilst she says this is not what she herself aspires to for children I wonder how much the tone of Wilson’s books feeds the minds of children in this area as she deals with some heavy themes. ( I have to add that my daughter once met Jacqueline Wilson and she treated her with great kindness amidst her busyness)

At the other end of the spectrum I have also come across an increasing concern expressed by some commentators about what has been termed ‘adultoescents.’ In other words adults who whilst they drift into their thirties are still behaving like teenagers.

So what is wrong with children becoming adults too soon? The problem according to parents is their exposure to alcohol, pre-marital sex, poor company and their rejection of parental authority. In other words the real problem is not children becoming adults but the kind of adults they become. And the adults they become are in many cases nothing more than taller children who are devoid of any sense of the responsibility that traditionally comes with adulthood. That is without doubt rooted in part to the kind of models of adulthood that they are exposed to.

The key issue is surely not to protect childhood as some ideal (or idolised) state but to prepare children for the transition to adulthood. That is not something that is done by protecting childhood or prolonging it.  Rather what we need to do is to instill in our children the values that will sustain them through adulthood.

My father decided to leave work aged 13 and get a job. At 15 he had enrolled in the armed forces during WWII. Today his parents and employer would be strung up under all manner of legislation. People would say today that he lost his childhood. Did it damage him? Not at all. He has lied a very full and active adult life. He is now 83 and what marks him out, even amongst his contemporaries, is his a profound sense of responsibility. Even at 83 if he is asked to do anything he will do it and do it to the best of his ability.

From a Christian perspective the opening chapters of Proverbs made up of what may be seen as a series of letters from a father to his son provide us with excellent models of how  parents might prepare their children for adulthood.

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