A New Endangered Species

My first job was babysitting four children, whose ages ranged from two to nine. The mother warned me that the oldest girl was “Nine going on 19,” and I laughed it off. However, when I met the daughter, I saw what she meant. The girl was wearing a low-cut shirt, nail polish and makeup.

“Let’s watch a movie,” I suggested, looking through their extensive Disney collection. I picked out Aladdin.

“Too babyish,” the girl told me. “I want to watch Friday the 13th.”

I informed her that it was rated R and we would not be watching it, because she was only nine, and her brother and sister would be watching it with us.

“But Mommy lets us,” she argued.

Sure enough, her mother stuck her head in the doorway right before she left for the night. “It’s okay for them to watch that movie,” she said.

I then found myself watching Friday the 13th with a four, seven and nine-year old. I was appalled. I was only 14 and my mother had only let me start watching PG-13 movies a year ago! These children were watching blood and guts, their emotionless eyes glued to the screen. At least the two-year-old was already asleep.

The mother wondered why her daughter was “nine going on 19.” I just wanted to slap her with the Duh Stick. If you’re going to treat your daughter like an adult – in this case, by letting her watch a rated R movie and wear revealing clothing – she’s going to act like an adult.

Why can’t people just let kids be kids anymore? We’re only that young for a short period in our lives. Once we’re teenagers, the days of no responsibility and endless summer days are pretty much behind us. Why force children into adulthood so soon?

Children shouldn’t be concerned with fashion, scary movies, painted nails, explicit lyrics and daytime talk shows. They should be wearing overalls, watching Toy Story and “Sesame Street,” scrawling with Crayolas and playing freeze-tag and Red Rover outside, going home when the streetlights turn on.

I blame the media and the parents – the latter being the worse offender – for pushing adulthood down children’s throats.

Entertainment, clothing and even toys idealize this quick passage to maturity. Television commercials for Barbie show little girls dancing around the room in visible makeup while chatting on cell phones. Bratz dolls, “the girls with a passion for fashion,” are scantily clad and promote older activities, like partying, shopping and chasing after the opposite sex. Video games show that it’s cool to be tough and violent. The music industry thrusts sexually charged artists, such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, towards preteens. Shirts keep getting more revealing, skirts keep getting shorter and heels keep getting higher.

With the above examples being such obvious factors, why are the parents mostly to blame? Because they’re the ones who are supposed to be saying “NO!” The parents have the power to shut off the television, to choose the movies, to buy the clothes and to disallow certain music. The parents are the ones not doing the parenting – they’re letting popular culture do it for them.

How are such children going to embrace this short period in their lives? How are they going to foster creativity and the imagination by emulating such garbage being fed to them? I feel sorry for the children who hardly know what Play-Doh feels like, how exciting a neighborhood kickball game is, what it’s like to be invited to a tea party with stuffed animals, how amusing Dr. Seuss books are or how fun it is to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round.

I’d like to commend Healthtex clothing company. It was two of its billboards that prompted me to write this week’s column. The first pictured a little girl, and it said, “If she still calls it a tummy, she shouldn’t be baring it.” The second pictured a young boy, and it said, “Less wild, more child.” The billboards are a part of its “Grow Slow” advertising campaign, a counterattack to what it call “all-out assault on childhood fashion” by celebrities, movies, videos and music. It calls for parents to “take back the essence of childhood for their children.”

Parents need to join in this fight by making better choices for children. It is time for them take a stand and say “NO” to the force-feeding of adulthood. Kids only have a few years to enjoy the simplicity and the magic before they need to start growing up – let them embrace the time for what it’s worth. Childhood is an endangered species, and without conservation, it will eventually disappear forever.

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