This past semester my psychology professor posed a question to our class: does childhood still exist? I enthusiastically answered yes, easily recalling memories from my earlier years. Zoo trips, museums, playgrounds, toys and puzzles galore fueled my first couple of years in school. Mud was never a deterrent. My imagination ruled the world, and how I chose to see it. I shopped mostly at Justice and wore a lot of brown yoga pants. When I wore Crocs I made sure they were the ones I'd lovingly decorated in Jibbitz. My first phone, a Motorola metallic pink brick, was given to me in fifth grade. In sixth grade I was rocking my new braces, and the same flip phone, while I was beginning my transformation into a band nerd. By eighth grade I'd purchased my first tube of cheap mascara, which I was slowly training myself to use, and eagerly awaiting my first kiss. All these steps were preparing me to discover who I wanted to be later in life, and the beauty was in the lack of judgement I felt about my transformation. In my mind it only made sense that this type of childhood would still exist, but recently I've had a handful of experiences that brought this assumption into question.
This last week I babysat three girls, Amanda, Candice and Ruth, who are all 12 years old and in the sixth grade. For the purposes of this article I've replaced every name I use with a pseudonym. I was excited to pick them up from school and interact with them as I helped them find their way around our city.
When they arrived at my car I began to notice nuances of this generation that were not as prominent when I was growing up. They were all wearing full faces of makeup, including bronzer, eyeshadow and lipstick. As they climbed into my car they were giggling, pointing out the girls who were less done up than them. Amanda asks Candice to hold a mirror for her so she can focus on fixing her lip liner.
"See Julia? Her hair is so greasy," Ruth yells, pointing at a classmate. "Oh! But I'd love to have Michaela's skin tone though, or her eyes."
They all had iPhones, Snapchats and Instagrams. While scrolling through their feeds they would draw each others attention to various blurbs about Kylie and Kendall Jenner, new fitness tips and makeup trends.
Candice mentions her two piece dress for their upcoming middle school dance. "I'm so afraid to eat a meal this week... I want to make sure my tummy is flat when I wear my dress!" The others giggle.
The same girl continues talking about a boy, Cole, who she blocked on Snapchat because he was "moving too quickly." Ruth and Amanda remark on how lucky she is that all the boys are into her. They have not yet had their middle school chat regarding safe technology use.
When I park at the mall they hop out of the car and walk in without me. I locate them by calling Candice, who tells me they're in Nordstrom trying on bralettes.
Wes Anderson, a famous cinematic auteur, has a pretty reliable pattern in all of his films. Often they contain a handful of young characters who see themselves as adults. However, these characters also often misunderstand or misinterpret key adult knowledge, which tends to lead to the conflict of the story.
Interacting with these kids made me wonder if we, as a society, are raising a generation of adult-like, Wes Anderson type children.
Candice, Amanda and Ruth interact with the world as if they were full grown adults, but are still missing key conceptual understanding. They dress to the nines daily, navigate technology with ease, hold the confidence to interact in a busy city alone and, most importantly, feel they are told to do so by the media they indulge in.
Someone in their twenties, who is planning on wearing a revealing two-piece dress to an event, would theoretically understand the difference between a healthy diet with an exercise regiment and fasting. They would also hold social skills outside of Snapchat, and know how healthy relationships are formed. Theoretically, a 20 year old would understand that the Jenner sisters are not a benchmark for appearance.
We are raising a generation of apathetic young people. Now, this doesn't apply to all kids, However, I do believe this is a growing trend. We need to talk to our children. Explain how to interact without judgement, and how to be a citizen of the world safely. We should work to stop technology from raising them for us. Our children deserve better, and through them we can mold a better society.