What Happened to Childhood?

March 28, 2011
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What happened to childhood? Where did the time meant for climbing trees and playing tag go? Why are children these days forced to decide their future at the tender age of fourteen, if not earlier? These questions may not plague the minds of all the youngsters across the nation, but they are in enough minds so as to create real concern. Is it really reasonable to expect a teenager just figuring out who they are to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life? And what about having fun? When did grades become more important than laughter, tests more important than an hour to relax, school more important than health?

In quite a few other countries secondary school graduates normally take a year off to travel or work before starting university, but in America a student starts looking at colleges at the latest in their junior year of high school. To decide upon a college one must have a good idea as to what they want to do with their life, so really society is demanding sixteen and seventeen year-olds to plan their life. How is this efficient? How is this a healthy way for young adults to develop? It leaves no time for them to relax and enjoy being young. If someone were to walk through the hallways of an American high school during lunchtime they would most likely hear at least ten conversations concentrating solely on grade point average, colleges, and/or transcripts. Where is the joie de vivre that should be radiating from these young adults who are in the supposed prime of their life? It has been sucked away by the pressure society puts upon its teenagers to decide their life before they've gotten their driver's license, before they have to pay taxes, before they have really even experienced the world.

As teenagers, these children are not biologically capable of knowing for certain some things, such as how they'll feel in twenty years or if the things that interest them now will still be interesting in a decade. As a hormonal human, what is it that teenagers will base their decisions on? Will they base them on common sense, parental influence, or their own desires? Whatever they may use to guide their actions, it is almost certain that if they had waited a couple years to make the same choice the result would be monumentally different. So the real question would be, how old does a person have to be to make an informed, long-lasting decision about life-altering things such as university? And should mistakes made when a person is, say, fifteen, be held against them for the rest of their life? Because at the moment that is what it all comes down to. If a high school freshman decides to take Algebra I instead of Geometry, that can throw off their entire high school career, which can then mean the difference between going to a good college and ending up in a dead-end job at Walmart. How is that conducive to a healthy society? When did things change so much that a person has to know where they want to end up and how they're going to get there by the time they enter high school? If it were possible to allow the public a look into each and every high schooler's brain they would be horrified. Some teenagers are so terrified that if they don't spend all their time studying then they'll end up homeless or living in their parent's basement that they totally shut out the social aspect of their education. After all, not all the knowledge needed to succeed can be found in textbooks or taught in classrooms.

How can someone succeed if they have no idea how to interact with different types of people? Will they forever spend their life hiding behind a computer screen, not knowing how to create stable relationships of any kind with another human being? This may seem extreme, but it will eventually be the norm unless some of the pressure is not taken off these young people. What type of society would that be, made up of people who can only recite facts and don't have the time to actually experience life because it might put their academic schedules – made for them by their parents before they were born – off track? Everyone would be robots, except instead of being programmed by engineers they would be programmed by society as infants. Lullabies would turn into algebraic equations, Shakespeare would be taught in kindergarten, and parents would be teachers that happened to live with their pupils. That may be years away, but it is where America is headed.

While these problems are important, they have not yet developed to the extent where they are obvious, and therefore it would be difficult to realize their significance unless one were to look for it. However, there are certain things that are quite problematic already yet have not been fixed, such as the result of putting so much pressure to succeed on the very young. Just look at the middle schools in America. Children there care so very much about their grades that they can develop anxiety disorders due to the pressure applied by their parents and society in general. If a middle schooler doesn't get 4.0 then they might not get into the best high schools, which then means they won't get into a prestigious university, which means that they will once again end up in a dead-end job at Walmart, or in a tiny cubicle acting as the secretary's secretary to an assistant somewhere at the bottom of the power chain. There are eleven-year-olds worrying about this! Whatever happened to hanging out, painting each other's nails and gossiping about the latest movie? When did playing tag become a foreign concept to children? It's like children are either too young to be able to do something, or too busy worrying about the future to actually act their age! Seventh graders talk about whether they would prefer Harvard or Yale; eighth graders worry about getting placed in a lower math class, which might screw up their long-term plans; ninth graders freak out about their GPA; sophomores worry about class rank; juniors have panic attacks because they're now actually applying to colleges; and seniors feel like they'll die if the letter from Brown says 'Rejected'. Society is crumbling from the inside out, and everyone just stands by and asks why the Asian countries have better test scores than America does.

The real question would be, is being the best academically worth sacrificing the social aspect of growing up? Is America willing to execute childhood in order to improve test scores? This next decade will be Childhood's trial, with Academics as the prosecutor (Test Scores and University Admissions will be testifying) and Biology and Fun as co-defendants (Anxiety Disorders, Joie de Vivre, and Parental Pressure testifying). One may ask, who is the jury? That would be Society In General. Each and every person has to decide for themselves whether or not Childhood should be set loose or executed. Should children be allowed to act their age without having to worry about how their actions now may affect their future education? That is for Society to decide, but for each and every future child's sake, they should think long and hard before casting their vote.





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