I think it my nine year old son saying that his life was stressful that did it. Or maybe some time before. But here is the horrible, tragic thing that I’m bothered by: our children are losing the capacity to imagine or to wonder. To be a child.
These times with all their high-tech gadgets which create worlds for you instead of leaving space for imagination, their extortionate amounts of money and things (I mean, when did the tooth fairy start leaving tenners rather than ten pence?!) and their two-family experiences, are conspiring to make little adults of the very ones we should be cherishing.
As these thoughts were running round my head, I lifted down Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, a book I studied during my degree, and flicked through it. Life today is scarily not dissimilar to the situations depicted by Dickens in that book. Mr Choakumchild and Mr Gradgrind work hard to stamp out any flickers of fancy or curiosity in their children, prioritising facts, ‘nothing but facts.’ Watching the build-up for the AQE in school, I can see that happening: get a tutor to guide you to write the correct answers, give up your summer holidays to practise tests, and then you will get into a school which heaps on a further seven years of pressure to make you into the person you were destined to be. Who cares about playing, make-believe, day-dreaming. Just get better at gaining the marks on your tests, and that will be more than enough. Pah.
Flicking through a grammar school prospectus, I noticed that all the girls looked about five years older than they really were. Not one of them resembled the spotty teenager I was when I was at school. It was like they’d all had their childhood airbrushed out for them. And then, there’s the clothes. Go into the 8+ child department of any clothing store and you will see black outfits, scanty dresses and skulls on jewellery. Already, my 7 year old daughter wants her finger nails painted, and pretends with my make-up brushes. I don’t know who exactly to blame – the media probably. Yesterday, a song came on the radio in the car about having sex with yout ex. At four in the afternoon!
So many young people are living through the separation and divorce of their parents. They are coming face to face with grown-up situations and pain that they never asked for. So many look as though they need to cry, but they’re already learning how to hide it.
We’re not living in Victorian times, but the same phenomenon is occurring: the death of childhood. So here is our responsiblity; we have to in any way we can,
‘beautify their [children’s] lives of machinery and reality with those imaginative graces and delights without which the heart of infancy will wither up’.
I can only hope that it is not too late.