On one of those special days when my oldest daughter was about eighteen, we had a heart-to-heart conversation. She told me, “You said something once which really made sense.”
I was surprised I had ever said anything worth remembering. Hey, I actually said something she remembered! I wondered which of my words had stuck with her. I was expecting something profound, something I had tossed out in a moment of unconscious genius.
“You said, ‘Innocence is overrated.’”
“Oh,” I said slowly. Out of all the advice, the hints, the suggestions I had given her over the years, she picked this one to emulate. Oh my God, what would my mother have thought? The world I grew up in revered innocence. I was sure my mother was turning in her grave at that very moment.
Innocence is overrated. I vaguely remembered saying this to her but couldn’t remember why. I think it was one of those flippant remarks I made one day out of frustration when talking about one of her friends’ conservative family. Innocence is overrated.
Well, innocence is overrated. After all, what is innocence but a lack of knowledge? Babies arrive in this world in innocence and we try our best to keep them innocent as long as possible, but at what price to them? As children grow, we protect them, but at some point this becomes detrimental to their development. How can we expect them to learn how to deal with the real world if they are kept from it? Perhaps I feel this way because I was raised in that mode. I remember the struggles I had when confronted with new situations for which I was not prepared.
One can never anticipate every aspect of what the world will reveal to your children. When my youngest daughter was about ten, she typed “girls.com” on our computer, thinking she would find a website with jewelry, makeup, and other things for girls. However, when she hit “enter,” well, you can imagine what she saw. When I discovered this, I was not angry, nor did I put parental controls on the computer. We talked about what she had seen, why some people go to these sites, and how to use search engines. Evidently I laughed, though I don’t remember it that way. She says I did.
But the point is that I helped her deal with the situation rather than making her feel afraid of it. I believe that can work whether discussing politics, controversial art, movies, discrimination, or any number of other things.
I don’t propose that we force children to lose their innocence. But an innocent young adult is naïve, and naïveté does not help a person think clearly or solve problems.
So I do believe innocence is overrated. I believe in curiosity. I believe in answering questions. I believe in respecting children and their rights to grow into thoughtful, worldly adults who can make their own decisions based on fact and not fear.