While working with elementary school students in an afterschool program just a few years back, I came in contact with many bright-eyed, optimistic children. One intelligent, mature nine-year old girl stands out in particular when reflecting on this time in my life. One afternoon she began to tell me about her home life. She told me that her mother worked second shift in a factory in our small town, and that she rarely spent time with her. She confided in me that she was basically raising her three younger siblings. A girl of only nine years was responsible for serving breakfast, dressing, packing bags, and making sure that she and her siblings were on the bus all before she went to school. It was then that it occurred to me that the third grade child I was in conversation with had experienced more in her young life than I had. I sat back and let all of this information set in, reflecting on my own childhood and comparing it to this young child. It was then that I realized our society pushes children out of innocence and into the “real world”.
As far as my childhood goes, I had an awesome upbringing. I was showered with love from my happily married parents and sheltered from the harsh realities of life until I was mature enough to understand. I wasn’t forced to grow up like so many children of today; I was allowed to grow up. I feel that because my parents eased me into responsibility, I was able to understand the importance and significance of being dependable. I was also taught to enjoy life playing in backyard and to look forward to each day as a new opportunity. I feel that this has shaped me into the person I am today. Because of the opportunity to maintain my innocence as a child, I am able to be optimistic and open-minded in my early adult years. When things go awry, I am able to laugh like I did in the sandbox, and when life throws me a curve ball, I am able to knock it out of the park as I did when playing with my father.
In today’s world, children are introduced at a young age to the troubles of adults. Parents steal the joy of childhood from their children by asking them to take on responsibilities outside of their capability. We ask them to become comfortable with the fast-paced realm of adulthood. We forget that children are just children. We do not allow them to play in dirt and Barbie dolls. We expect them to know how to handle themselves in serious situations. We forget that children have not had the adequate life experience and knowledge to handle themselves with poise in awkward situations. My fear is that the children who are pushed into accountability by their parents will lose the opportunity to love life. I fear that children, robbed of their innocence, will continue to look at each day as a dreadful chore, creating relentless lists of objectives for the day, obsessing over the insignificance of meaningless encounters, and forgetting the importance of laughter.
I believe in the innocence of children. Children should be given responsibilities at appropriate age intervals. They should be taught to enjoy life and childhood. We should allow them to just be children, to just pick up their toys, and to just go to bed at eight. It is our responsibility to preserve the innocence of children because it is the innocence in childhood that ensures the quality of life in adulthood.