Opinion: Growing up to grow backwards: A paradox



Sarahbeth Caplin

Sarahbeth Caplin

Sarahbeth Caplin is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Recently, Abercrombie & Fitch has been surrounded by controversy for releasing a new line of bathing suits with chest padding for pre-teen girls. A mother in Britain has come under fire for giving Botox and bikini waxes to her 8-year-old daughter. Mattel’s line of hooker-esque Bratz dolls have replaced the popularity of the American Girl dolls that I played with as a child. Where am I going with this? I’ve noticed this paradox of growing up: kids are encouraged to do it faster, while adults are trying to slow the process down and retain their youth as long as possible. How does that work, exactly?

If you pick up any women’s magazine or watch enough commercials, you’ll see ads for products that swear to reduce the appearance of wrinkles; a natural occurrence that comes with aging. Looking young is considered important, yet I’m continually amazed at how styles of dress for younger girls has evolved from youthful to young adult. Do little girls really need to be wearing skinny jeans? Is it necessary for a girl to be wearing makeup before she’s old enough to date?

We expect that kids will be curious, so we don’t hesitate much about initiating them in grown-up matters under the guise that “they can’t stay innocent forever.” I have to ask, what is so wrong about allowing kids to remain innocent for as long as possible? Why is there such hurry for them to grow up, only to have them try and reverse the process later on? What is it about youth that young people find distasteful

but makes adults fork over large amounts of cash to get it back, even on a surface level?

To be clear, “remaining innocent” is not the same as encouraging ignorance. I believe there are age-appropriate ways to educate kids about matters such as death, suffering, the birds and the bees, etc. The problem isn’t that we want to educate kids, but how we go about it. And then there are some things that kids should never have to know.

For instance, in the movie “Away We Go,” an expectant couple searching for a place to raise their daughter encounters a family who, in one poignant scene, are shown singing along to “The Sound of Music.” The father-to-be inquires, “How do you explain to the kids about the Nazis?” The family explains that they skip that part: “There will be enough time for Nazis later.” The bottom line is that there’s plenty of time to deal with adult issues – when you actually become one. At that point, you’ll wish you’d cherished childhood more. But in a world where 13-year-old Disney singers produce ballads about grown-up heartache, childhood seems to be getting shorter, even less necessary.

I don’t think there’s some kind of magic age where suddenly we exchange innocence for world-weariness. However, now that I’m about to graduate college in less than one month, I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to kiss childhood goodbye.