When did childhood become about the number of activities engaged in, enrichment classes attended or grades on a school tests? By the time our children are in middle school they are already plagued by a competition that is cut-throat, painfully aware of the price of being average or a non-conformist. Instead of their worlds being filled with curiosity, engagement and discovery, our children are learning to be consumed with a fear of under-performing and not fitting in. No longer are wooden toys and empty canvasses enough to occupy their minds and hearts. Instead, our children have become acutely aware of the status of designer labels, gadgets, and zip codes, all by the time they are ten years old. Sixth graders are buying Gucci bags, seventh graders are using iPhones and eighth graders have the latest Mac notebooks. We parents seem to be willing to pay any price for our children’s social acceptability; cosmetic surgery in high school, bar mitzvahs that cost more than weddings and Bentleys at eighteen. We are catapulting our children into an adult world that is simply not theirs to know or experience. It is little wonder twelve year olds are having sex, fifteen year olds are getting pregnant and eighteen year olds are on psychiatric medications. The world of childhood has shrunk and adulthood is looming over our children’s heads way before they have the ability to handle its pressures and superficialities. In our adult anxieties to have our children succeed and fit in, we parents have grossly distorted what it means for our children to have a childhood.
The pressures upon our children to succeed are monumental. Schools are no longer the place for the burgeoning of an insatiable curiosity; instead have become the habitat for a competition that is cut-throat and sadly, the nest of shame for those who are unable to enter the race to Harvard, Princeton or Yale. There is a grossly distorted notion of what it takes to be a well-integrated human being in our culture today. Instead of an insistence on qualitative values, such as emotional empathy, sense of community, ability to tolerate, and willingness to learn, the criteria for success has been reduced to a few markers; GPA’s, college admissions, earning potential and other outer reflections of status such as cars, neighborhood, social circle, etc.
The world our children are growing up in today is a far cry from yesterday where time moved slower and life was not so cluttered. The constant outpouring of gimmicks and gadgets that have come to mark our world has vastly deteriorated our ability to engage in deep and meaningful conversation with each other or simply sit in still quietude. Our children are growing up on tonics of fast-paced technology, fed with entertainment 24/7, ichats, texting, twittering, facebooking, youtubing, all giving the appearance of fullness, but in actuality leaving them starving for fulfillment, peace, emotional connection and creativity.
If our children could articulate their feelings, they would tell us that their souls do not need the pressures of achievement and competition to flourish. Instead, they would tell us that they long for empty expanses of time where being-ness and “down” time were valued and encouraged. They would tell us that their imaginations are better served with sands and sticks than Nintendos and YouTube. If we heeded their cry, we would hear their plaintive requests to let them learn at school with abandon and unbridled curiosity, without the fear of the grades they are going to receive. They would tell us that they are truly motivated and innately curious and that they do not need a test score to tell them this; in fact, they would stress, it is this test score that kills their inner sense of ability and adventure. Our children are thirsty for hours of unhampered play and limitless creativity; where they can use their hands and bodies in energetic movement and discovery as opposed to sitting, paralyzed, in front of a screen or at a desk for hours on end.
Our children are screaming for an intervention; it is we parents who are too obsessed with their future to pay heed to how their present moments are getting short circuited with a deluge of all things soul-less.
The endless potential of our children’s beings and the limitless expanse of their imaginations is shrinking. In our parental and egoic delusion that performance-oriented learning, intellect and achievement outweighs innocence, imagination and being-ness, our children are paying a heavy price indeed. It is time for us to take a pause, step back and re-engage in our children’s lives with a renewed commitment to a state of presence.