Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Those Little People We Call Children

I've been thinking a lot about how people treat children. And in my thoughts I think I've realized a possible answer to why YA tends to feature parents/adults that aren't present, have problems, etc.

Back in the day—what I like to call "Pre-Baby"—I had this idea that parents could mold their children into whatever they wanted. I mean, all they had to do was discipline properly, provide essential nutrition, and give copious amount of love. How hard was that?

If I saw a child misbehave in public, I rolled my eyes, groaned, scoffed, etc. "What a horrible parent," I'd think. "They can't even control their own child." I think I had this idea that kids were more like dogs than people. Proper training! Train that child and he'll do whatever you want on command. Child rearing shows only enforced this thinking.

More than anything, I was annoyed at these little, loud people invading my life. They were such a nuisance! I'd see a baby on a plane and groan, never thinking of how nervous and stressed that mother probably was. I'd glare at the loud family in the restaurant, wondering why they bothered to take their kids out if they couldn't behave.

It was all about me. Me. Oh, and more me. And I didn't even realize it.

Then I had Dino Boy and Ninja Girl.

I promised I wouldn't be like those other parents. My kids would be perfect. They would sit still in church, never have tantrums, never yell. They would eat everything on their plate, never watch TV, and take commands without question.

Looking back, I laugh at myself. I basically wanted robot babies! What I got were human babies.

And guess what? Dino Boy and Ninja Girl have, like, their own personalities. They have likes and dislikes. They have things that scare them and things they love to do. They have good days and bad ones, times of fatigue and times of infinite energy. They have emotions.

They might be small, but they are people.

This might be a simple realization, but it changed my whole world. Instead of glaring at that little boy screaming in the check-out line, I felt love for him. He wasn't ruining my life—he was just trying to deal with his own problems in the only way he knew how. I wasn't any better than a child; I still have tantrums and bad days and times that I cry because I don't know how else to deal with my life.

This is the ultimate hypocrisy of adulthood—we're really just big kids.

Yet we expect perfect behavior from the little people in our lives, while at the same time allowing ourselves to behave poorly rather often. We forget that children are people, with thoughts and feelings very real to them. We forget that they deserve respect, compassion, and patience as they learn to cope with this thing called life.

But because they are trusting children, they follow our lead. They try to be what we expect them to be, even if we aren't that ourselves.

Then these children turn into teenagers. In my experience, puberty comes fully equipped with the most sensitive BS-o-meter on the planet. Teens usually still get treated like children, and yet they're quickly growing into adults. They're not so trusting anymore, and they're smart. They see that adults aren't any better than they are—that their parents don't live up to their own standards.

This is incredibly frustrating. It doesn't matter how "good" a teen is, they will see this hypocrisy and get upset about it. Heck, I get upset just thinking about the expectations other adults put on my kids. When I hear some comment about "parent fail" or "there's a kid doing insert-annoying-thing here," I have to breathe deep and force myself not to point out that those adults are acting like children.

Because really, they aren't acting like children. They are acting like people. The tantrums may change form (like, uh, this one), the emotions may stay inside more often, but adults are no better than when they were little. We still feel all the same things. We're all still learning how to cope. It's time we stop burying our inner child—our inner self—in this mask we call adulthood.


  1. True, true.

    Tabula Rasa? *scoffs* Don't make me laugh.

  2. But my children ARE perfect and it's all thanks to my stellar training. *blinks, trying to hold straight face*

    AHAHAHAHA! I couldn't do it.

    You're absolutely right. The only thing that's changed over the years is that adults MAY know what is and what is not appropriate for public viewing. We all still have our tantrums. I'm embarrassed to think of some of the ones I've had.

  3. I don't have my own little ones yet, but I spend my weekdays with 22 seven year olds. Talk about personality plus--one tiny person's bad morning can ruin twenty-two more. I ask questions like: "Do you want to get under your desk and be left alone for a few minutes?"
    (personally if someone asked ME that, the answer would be yes, and that's mostly the answer kids give me)

    "Should we jump up and down till our bad mood falls off?"

    Shockingly effective.


  4. It is quite amazing how we treat children. I also spend my days with little ones (first graders) and have little ones of my own (7 and 3). I marvel as they find their way in the world and their own voices. I am watching amusedly (ok, sometimes) as my 3 yr old is entrenched in her "terribles" but really, when you step out of the frustration that we may feel about it, it's really just her wanting some sort of power or independence in a world where she can hardly reach anything, let alone get her way.

    So it broke my heart to find out that her preschool teachers were calling her "Scarface" (a play on her real name. And not a very nice one at that). Because the people we entrust with our children need to be careful how they treat them, too. I can say that because I am one (a person entrusted with others' children every day), and incidents like this certainly color the way I do my job and the empathy I have for my little guys (my own and my students).

    It's not easy being a kid!

    Or a grownup!


  5. I had the same feeling about kids "pre Baby". Now when I see a kid freaking out at the store I say, "oh it's nap time." Good thing is parents tend not to be as judgmental as non parents.

    I teach Middle School and I call them "Almost People." In my eyes you're a full person when you have your own identity that's different from your parents and your peers. You are YOU. Middle school, the kids are still a blend of their peers and the parents.

    I like to think they turn into full blown people when they are in high school.

    Excellent post!

  6. I have to admit, honestly, that I am still partially in "pre baby" mode. Maybe not as bad as I was, but I still cringe sometimes around children. I'm one of "those people" who is supremely uncomfortable in their presence. And they sense it too because the little ones are always shadowing me!

    I think I'm still a child myself. A big 25-year-old married one. I'm sure it'll change if I ever have kids.

  7. I had the exact same point of mind before my little sister.

    She's 7 now. And in the exact same ways she's just like an adult. And as a teen, I see the similarities between us and between adults.

    There's a song that we're all just "Taller Children". Nothing ever changes about how we think or the choices we make only the way we make ourselves look to other people.

  8. This was very well said, Natalie! I agree that adults tend to act as much like children as...well, children. But we're all human, so why shouldn't we be more understanding? You know what annoys me the most, though? When full grown adults act like every child goes around screaming their heads off and throwing tantrums all the time, and so they therefore look down on children. I always want to stop and tell them that they're being just as bratty, and probably aren't nearly as cute as those children, and what exactly do they think happened with them as children? *sigh* But yes. The world is just as confusing for children as it is for adults, and we're all trying to find our place regardless of our ages.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. It definitely does give you a new perspective once you have your own children, doesn't it? I can only hope I'm doing a good job at being understanding and loving and helping to guide my boys. Because let's face it, I'm definitely not "training" them. Great post.

  10. Natalie, I love coming to your blog! I always feel so much happier when I'm here! :)

  11. Man, that is so true. My oldest is just at the age where he can start explaining his own point of view, and it's always, ahem, enlightening. The other day, my dh told me, "DS threw a tantrum." But my son told the story this way, "Daddy was fighting with me!"

  12. I have always thought that the reason that YA (and other fiction) involves parents that are absent or out of touch is that the MC's are supposed to handle their problems themselves. I read an article about a writer who had just had their first novel published, and in the interview he said that in his original version, his MC had come to a critical decision after consulting a priest. The editor didn't like that. She wanted the MC to come to the decision on his own, so the author changed the plot. He said that he realized that it made the story stronger.

    I think the same principle goes for parents. After all, if a teen is reassured and confident because of a parent's advice, there isn't much conflict, is there?

  13. As a teacher I'm always amazed when adults don't realize kids are people, not carbon copies of themselves or toys to be played with.

    Kids/teens see and understand so much more than we expect. They're smart and intuitive.

  14. I was the second oldest of seven kids, so I was well schooled in the philosophy before I had kids of my own. Heck, kids were always more entertaining than adults, if you ask me. No snooty pretension. They were willing to try anything, and still used their imaginations!

    Then again, there was still soooo much I was unprepared for (sleepless nights, etc.)

    I've always been amazed at our capacity to judge others for what we ourselves do. And I am DEFINITELY going to try to jumping up and down thing Lora96 suggested! My standby is "No happiness. Stop that laughing now!" I think it's called "reverse psychology."

  15. Well put! I don't even pretend. I'm 13 at heart :)

  16. *joins in with a standing ovation*

  17. So true! My husband is so good about reminding me of these these things by the way he deals with our son. He often sits down with him and asks him hows he's feeling. It' adorable and sometimes heartbreaking to hear a 3,4, or 5-yr-old say, "I'm feel really frustrated, daddy." Being a parent definitely changes the way you see other kids as well. I think (and hope) I'm a lot less judgmental than I used to be.

  18. so true! when my kid is freaking out my husband and i will more often than not look at each other and wonder "why the heck is she acting like that?" and although a lot of times it turns out she is hungry, tired, or needs a quiet break...sometimes she's just pissed and 2 years old. come to think of it, yesterday i was pissed and 26 years old and had a crying meltdown :) you really can't be too hard on them!