I was interested to hear that in a recent survey carried out by the children’s book publishers, Random House, that more than half of parents believe childhood is over by 11.
I guess I’m supposed to be shocked by this. But as ever, definitions of what constitutes childhood appear to be lacking. So too does a clear and appropriate age for which childhood should end – 13, 14, 18 – and can this be universally applied, or are we simply supposed to be discussing this from a purely white, middle class, developed country perspective? I’m sure many children around the world would love childhood to last as long as 11 years, while some cultures would wonder what all the fuss was about. Indeed, rightly or wrongly, it wasn’t that long ago that ‘children’ in the UK were in full time work not much after the age of 11. Certainly my own father was in an engineering apprenticeship long before the current school leaving age, while my mother was given all kinds of household and caring responsibilities from a very young age. As a Christian, I even believe in a God who chose a young girl, probably in her early teens, to give birth to Jesus – and what remarkable maturity this ‘child’ demonstrated (see the opening chapters Luke’s Gospel).
Actually, if I’m honest (and being the father of a three year old daughter) I am concerned about what sociologists call ‘age-compression’, and the erosion of childhood innocence. But I’m more concerned by what this research implies about ‘growing up’ and being an adult.
Apparently, ‘growing up’ is defined by alcohol consumption, staying up late, watching 18 rated films, consumerism, sex, lack of regard for authority, dying hair, and wearing make up and skimpy clothes (I assume those last three relate mostly to young girls). Is there any wonder we are worried about children growing up if such a list defines what it is to be an adult!
Perhaps if adulthood were defined as moral and emotional maturity, social awareness and responsibility and relational and spiritual depth, we might not be so concerned, not only about our children growing up, but the kind of role models we are providing as to what being grown up constitutes.