When you ask someone about their childhood, the response usually includes an anecdote about misunderstanding a subject that is normal for a child to not understand. Not knowing that cursing is bad, not understanding human reproduction, or even not getting adult humor on tv shows. Childhood is always defined by the norms and values that are accepted by the predominate culture. Despite the popular idea that childhood is an essential state of existence, psychological research has all but confirmed that childhood is neither biologically characterized or plainly inflexible. In fact, it is a byproduct of culture. In reality, childhood functions as a manifestation of one’s social world, and as such, it is uniquely experienced by individual children. I feel that the window of childhood is shrinking, not only due to the increasing sexualization of children, but because of the heightened pressures put on children to grow up quickly. Our society seems to put such a high value on what a person’s immediate impact can be. This can be seen in college students being pressured into STEM fields, even when they have no interest in them. I don’t want to sound like an old man shaking his fist angrily at the sky, but much of the time, kids aren’t allowed to enjoy being children, and a huge part of this is the early introduction of . Sexualization also plays a huge role in in the declining status of childhood. Kids are being exposed to a hyper-sexual culture and many don’t have the proper resources or guidance to make any sense of it.
Think about the access that the average 9 year old has. Many of them have multiple point of access to the internet, whether it be through a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or a parent’s smartphone. Not to mention how much they are exposed to through television, music, billboards, print media, and of course interaction with peers and adults. These instances offer children numerous possibilities where they can encounter sexual messages of all sorts. In some homes kids are only one click or tap away from seeing sexual intercourse in all its possible modes, everything from vanilla sexual intercourse to some pretty eccentric and disconcerting sexual acts. Others still are being exposed to actual sexual behavior in their daily lives that gets played out by the adults and older siblings around them. Many adults are unaware of how much children absorb their behavior from the environment around them. This results in children who are showing romantic and sexual interest earlier and earlier than the generation preceding them. Kids are being made susceptible to erotic matters that were previously only accessible by adults and the greater the exposure the greater the fallout can be. When parents fail to answer questions appropriately make sense of the multitude of sexual provocation that confronts children, they are left to themselves to unpack the information that they receive. Sadly, many will be puzzled and have complications understanding and perceiving this new realm they have been exposed to. Some may try to play out or imitate what they have seen or read. Others, who may have already been developing a habit of bullying, will begin to mix in sexual behavior into their domineering behavior and begin harmful or invasive sexual behavior towards other children.
Outside of sexual exposure, kids are constantly stressed out in school, as pressure from college admissions and prepping for the future in general set in. Kids are hurried, overscheduled and overworked by school systems, their teachers, and their parents. From sometimes pre-k through 12th grade, the causes of childhood anxiety are abundant. One of the most commonly known is the stress induced via standardized-testing, which starts in first-grade in many states. High-pressure tests, such as the TAKS in Texas and the FCAT in Florida, are especially stressful, for students and teachers alike. In some states, tests like these the pre-requisites to pass on to the next grade. In Florida, kids as young as 8 years old face are confronted with the possibility of being held back should they not be able to pass the test.Whether you support them or are against them, high-stakes exams create a considerable and, in my opinion, unnecessary amount of stress.
In short, the concept of being a child is rapidly changing everyday. Kids are exposed to so much more than their parents were, than even we millennials were just ten or so years ago. Principals, school boards, teachers, and parents should remember that kids are still kids and, while that protective bubble is getting smaller and smaller, they should be allowed to have that layer of innocence.