I have been thinking, recently, about the expansion of the teenage state and the effect of this on childhood today.
From the moment our children are born there is pressure for them to progress onto the ‘next stage’. Most of this is, I suspect, about marketing objects to parents. A nice example is the kind of ‘pre-walking’ shoes you can now buy in any Clarks shop. Even ten years ago, when we went to get P her first shoes, these didn’t exist. In fact, while we were there the saleswoman sent away a family with a barely standing little boy, telling them to bring him back when he was walking. Now they’d have been advised to part with a few quid for shoes for the ‘cruising’ stage. These apparently ‘help’. It seems to me that childhood is now crammed with objects that are there to ‘support’ or ‘entice’ children into being someone older than they are.
When I was a child there were ‘teenagers’ and up until that point there was ‘childhood’. Now it seems that children are ‘tweens’ almost as soon as childhood begins. It may just be that we have a girl of eleven but I feel that the culture is particularly loaded with such stuff for girls. There is underwear that mimics that of women, for little girls of single digit ages. Why does a four year old need a ‘crop top’ more than a vest? Why are girls given the idea (from adverts to tv to children’s fiction) that they have outgrown childhood, when they’re in the very heart of those few precious years?
But, what strikes me as rather ironic is that, for all our children are hurried into their teenage years, they are then held in that ‘not yet adult’ state for longer than ever before. Why the rush to get them out of childhood if they’re not to be admitted to the adult world until they are at least eighteen? When I was young, most of my contemporaries left school at sixteen and went out to work. Those entry level jobs aren’t available to sixteen year olds now. It seems that time in college is ‘necessary’. The ‘school leaving age’ (which we all know isn’t really that!) gets higher and higher. Why do we push children to grow up fast and then clap a lid on it and tell them they’re not really grown up until they hit twenty? What is that about? Anyone?
In this house we go our own sweet way as much as possible. But the air we breathe is full of ‘shoulds’, isn’t it?
In this house childhood sometimes sounds like this,
L: Can I have a wormery?
D: Mmm? Yes, I suppose so.
L: Good, because I’ve got one.
L: In my bedroom in a cardboard box.
Said worms are now in the back porch and soon to be in a more permanent box. We finally all agreed that making worms live beside a de-humidifier wouldn’t be good for their health. This worm thing is a challenge to me. L didn’t help by adding the following comment, “I hope they breed and when I take off the lid there’ll be a writhing mass of worms!” Anyway, we got out the Wildlife Fact File that a colleague gave me and I realised I knew nothing about reproduction in worms. Now I do.
My voice is now returning and I am looking forward to a less busy week. We finished watching ‘Life on Mars’. It was excellent entertainment. I turned three in 1973 and it has amazed me how often (while watching) I have found myself picturing the house where I grew up and remembering certain images and sensations – the phone, cupboard doors, patterned carpet, long party dresses with big frills, bearded dad and uncle, the way the tv buttons felt when we pressed them in, cooking by candlelight in the powercut, nylon clothes. When I was little, in the 1970s, I would ask my mum for stories from her childhood. My mum was nearly four when the Second World War broke out and nearly ten by the time it was over so she had a lot of dramatic, childhood tales. It was so clearly ‘history’ to me – another world. Now I realise that it had all happened only thirty years before. It is strange how the things we lived through are never quite ‘history’ to us. Time plays funny tricks. I suspect I’m not the only person who finds it hard to remember these 20something dates. They just don’t seem real to me.
Right, off to eat some toast and not get stressed. There is plenty of time!