Sunday, May 09, 2010

Infantilisation of kids

I've been watching Brat Camp, an American wilderness camp designed to shock wayward teens into better behaviour. It's fascinating in a I-don't-support-this-philosophy-in-its-entirety-but-I-see-where-they're-coming-from kind of way. What strikes me is that we expect very little of our kids until they hit their teens, and then we want them to suddenly grow up, take responsibility and be all that society wants them to be.

Actually, no, we want them to keep being kids, until they are 18, and then we want them to be fully functioning adults. Pretty much the day they turn 18.

I am criticised for letting my kid cross some roads on his own. I am criticised for letting my kid climb trees. I am told that my child might be able to walk to school on his own by 6th grade - I expect him to be doing it in year 3.

These are the things I'm aware of, but what other concessions am I making? How else am I infantilising my kids? It seems to be the standard course just now. I'm watching these kids on TV fight against a world that has suddenly changed the goal posts, and I just don't think that's fair. The demands being made of these teens should have been made of them in steady increments from age 2, but some of them have barely made it past pre-school level of responsibility and respect.

It seems kinda obvious to me that the transition to adulthood is best done slowly, with heaps of time for backslides, fuck-ups, and re-drawing of the rules. The sooner we start, the more chance there is that adult responsibility isn't going to hit kids with a brick.

I could be way wrong, my eldest is only 7, but I remember being 8-18, and I know how hard some of those transitions are.

Which way do you lean? Protection or responsibility? I've written this entirely from my position - do you think I'm way off the mark? I'm still learning - not a week goes by that I don't hear something that resets my position.


  1. I've gone with year 4 for walking to school on their own, which is mostly to do with judging traffic. There's a quiet way to go to school, but it has several intersections to deal with, and then a very, very busy road to cross. There's a controlled crossing over the road, but sometimes drivers don't perceive the red light, so I've been teaching the girls to check that cars are stopping before stepping onto the road.

  2. Absolutely - getting to the infants school he goes to now involves crossing the intersection from hell, and I don't know how old he'd need to be for me to be happy for him crossing that.

    The school he will go to next year is across only one road, which has a crossing. The visibility for drivers isn't good, so he'll need to wait for other people to cross with, but he's the kind of kid who can be trusted to do that. It's a decision I'll make on a kid by kid basis.

    However, the person suggesting year 6 knows both the route to school and the kid - I didn't mean to imply that all kids are ready to walk to all schools by year 3, I didn't make that at all clear.

  3. No, it's very situation dependent. I still get that special look from some of t'other mums when they work out that my elder daughter has been walking to and from school by herself for a couple of years now, since year 4. As yet, I don't let the younger girls go with her, because she would feel responsible for them, and I don't think it's fair to ask her to take on that load.

    Thinking about it some more, it's also a bit dependent on the particular child. My elder daughter is quite a bit more responsible than my younger daughters (due to being eldest?), so I'm a bit happier for her to head off on her own. But my younger girls went around to the local shops by themselves this morning, and they have on occasion walked home by themselves.

    Having said all this, I'm just starting to wonder whether I could suggest that they walk home by themselves starting tomorrow...

  4. I haven't had to grapple with the walk to school thing as the bus to school leaves from the corner of our cul-de-sac. I did run into people being surprised at how early I was willing to let my kids catch the bus though. I got David to start doing so in kindy because I had Tom still in afternoon nap stage and if I didn't have to wake him to go do school pick up life was much more pleasant all round!

    I'm sure I was walking to school by myself well before year 6, I know I read The Lord of The Rings while walking to and from school and that was in year 3. I don't think I'd have been allowed to read if Mum was walking with us, that would have been being rude ;-)

  5. All of which completely fails to address the broader question :P I'm all for responsibility, the more and earlier the better but I'm nowhere near as good at implementing that as I'd like. It's often so much easier to not ask too much of them especially when there's that tendency to anxiety running through the family.

  6. @Deborah, yes, I it definitely depends on the kid - my eldest's best mate is not ready to cross roads yet.

    @Mim, it looks from the outside like there is a fair bit of responsibility going on - you've just been understandably selective about which things you've chosen. I've had to back off from a few moves towards responsibility when it proved to be too much for one or other of them. Ben's occasional tiny touch of the anxieties has even shaped my decisions, small wonder you've had to modify your plans.

    On the subject of yesteryear, I know my sister was walking to school on her own in year 1 - crossing two fairly serious roads.