When Will We Tell Children The Truth?
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Politics and Activism

When Will We Tell Children The Truth?

We fail our children by not creating spaces for them to be real with us.

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When Will We Tell Children The Truth?
Everyday Feminism

I feel that I've been deceived by adults about adulthood via lies of omission. This feeling leaves me disenchanted and wanting to relive my kindergarten days. It leaves me wondering how long these growing pains will last. While childhood does have its own complexity and trauma, some of which can affect us long into our adulthood, here, I’m referring to the responsibility that comes with adulthood. Not the responsibility of having a job and paying bills: I’m talking about responsibility for the heart(s) of another person (people) and the complexity of having intimate relationships with these people. Of course, we were socialized into this way of being with others during childhood through lessons about being empathetic, compassionate, and moral. (Treat others as you would like to be treated.) Yet, if I still have an accurate grasp of what my childhood was like, and I believe I do, I would argue that there was still less to be accountable for and fewer people to be accountable to during my younger years. You become responsible for how your actions will affect your neighbors, your coworkers, and your friends. You become responsible for how your decisions will affect your children, your lover--especially your children and your lover. And we adults hold each other accountable for our behavior via unspoken contracts. This sense of responsibility can be quite stressful to handle: knowing that you have the ability to break a lover’s heart, or damage the psyche and confidence of your child--intentionally or unintentionally--just because you are a flawed, contradicting human being--can be overwhelming.

On a societal level, we’re sold an illusion about what adulthood looks like. We (or at least I) associate adulthood with being able to transgress: in my experience, what made adulthood appealing was this idea of doing all the things that you were not allowed to do as much as you want and on your own terms.

Media, particularly movies and music videos, highlight the years between 18 and 35 as the pinnacle of adulthood: it is when you are allowed to have unlimited access to all forms of sensual titillation, stimulation, and addiction, from sex to drugs to fast cars, stylish clothes, and beautiful vacations. All of this without mention of the very real limitations created by privilege and access. The period after 35 is either portrayed as a period of social, physical, and psychological decline or, more often, it is not depicted at all. I admit, independent media is doing a marvelous job of adding new narratives to what we describe as adulthood, yet I still believe mainstream media is doing a great deal of damage. Teenagers, who are most allured by this forthcoming stage of human development, are most susceptible to this highly problematic false advertising. And the real-life adults they come in contact with have no useful ways to speak the truth to them and against the deception around them.

In my experience, adults don't (have the courage to) really talk to kids about the weight and responsibility of adulthood. I can always research "types of savings accounts" or "mortgages" on my own, but there is nothing like honest anecdotes about experiences with love, sex, bearing children, and maintaining one’s emotional and mental health. These are the things that weigh on my soul...not bills and other crap that comes with living in this problematic society. Religion and other traditions make talking about BOTH the dark and light of human experience--of our own psyches--SO uncomfortable. The boundaries and dictums and rules of religion exist as a moral compass and as a way to eliminate the gray area that complicates most human experiences. However, I think it’s crippling to view the tenets of religion or cultural tradition as a way to silence or ignore situations that are not black and white. This, to me, is an act of fear, and I believe this is exactly how the barrier between children and adults is made. An adult will shame and punish a child for operating outside of the boundaries set by culture and tradition, without honoring the fact that there is a consciousness and intention that motivated the child to take said action. When an adult would do this to me, I would no longer trust them to help me navigate the chaos of life because I feel they would not honor or respect my ability to make a decision as a conscious human being, even though that decision did not bring about the best results. I remember my mind frame growing up: from a young age, I had the ability to make ethical decisions, even in my innocence and naivety. To penalize a child as if they are unconscious beings dehumanizes them. This is the ageism that I daresay many of us experienced, and it probably creates the awkward wall many children have against adults.

I feel like fewer of us would need therapy if we could REALLY open up to people with who are some years ahead of us. I felt like a weirdo up until adulthood because I didn't have an adult with whom I could talk to about real sh!t. Talking about stuff just helps you realize that you're just as much of a fumbling human as everyone else. To be real, I have not yet encountered an elder who is so non-judgmental that I could tell them anything. Non-judgement, to me, is a form of unconditional love that very few can access. I think we lose the ability to not judge once we are shamed and guilted. The key is to give loving wisdom, not to take away free will. It takes a while to recapture the ability to love in this way, but I believe that adults with this power can create safe spaces because children--and anyone younger than them for that matter--really need space to share the truth of themselves and talk about the reality of life as an adult.

My wish is to have elders in my life with whom I can be completely transparent. My goal is to be a person who destroys the wall of taboos that separate the young and old.

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