Keeping Kids “Innocent” Is Wrong, Ultimately Harmful
“Now I really suspect that Grandma is hiding [the newspapers with news about the Great War]. That would mean the news was so bad she did not want me to read it. But knowing the truth is better than imagining the worst.”
– Jean Little, If I Die Before I Wake: The Flu Epidemic Diary of Fiona Macgregor, part of the Dear Canada series that teaches history and culture to children through story telling
They grow up so quickly, don’t they? How often have you heard that? Or maybe you have said it yourself.
Too many parents try to protect their children from the “cruel world out there” by hiding truth and reality from them. “There will be time for them to learn that later, when they are old enough and mature enough to handle it.”
The trouble is, by the time the parents believe their kids are old enough to handle the bad news about life, the kids have usually already experienced the bad part. They are past the time when they needed the input. The parents failed in their most important function, to raise their children to know how to handle what they face in their lives.
Compared with most mammals and primates, humans have an extremely long period of childhood. Nature has accommodated this by allowing for the slow development of a child’s body. Girls don’t begin to become fertile (able to procreate) until they are old enough that their prehistoric female ancestors were ready to be mothers. Similarly with boys becoming sexually mature.
The frontal lobes of the brain, the parts that help us tell right from wrong, good from bad, and that help us to think our way through serious problems do not fully develop until well on into the teen years.
By the age that adolescents become sexually mature, most of them know almost nothing about what is happening inside their bodies (how the hormones will affect them, not just the mechanics of reproduction as studied in school), how the same is affecting those of the opposite sex and how they can and should manage their strong feelings of sexual attraction toward others.
A recent study in the United States showed that fully half the college students surveyed knew almost nothing about how to avoid pregnancy. Does that seem unbelievable? It isn’t to those college students.
At the adolescent age of their kids, many parents are saying to other parents that “Kids are interested in sex too young these days,” and “I don’t want my kid to be having sex until he (or she) is much older and can handle the responsibility.” That age is not 12 years. But kids (about 15%) have their first sexual experiences by that age. By age 14 or 15, virtually half of them have had sex at least once. Parents are in denial, unless a daughter becomes pregnant. Then they blame the daughter, or TV, or movies, or their family doctor, just about anyone.
There is no such thing as an age when a child is too young to learn about matters of adulthood. That’s the whole purpose of childhood, for them to learn about being adults before they actually get there and have to live it.
However, there is a secret about conveying adult information and knowledge to children. It’s not what you tell them so much as how you tell them. Like any kind of communication, the message must be formed in such as way that the receiver understands it and can absorb it. Preferably that the young person has understood the message enough that he or she can process how to incorporate it somehow into his or her life.
A child can know the intricacies of sex without actually feeling the need to have it with another person. There are consequences. One is pregnancy and that includes becoming a parent long before the adolescent is ready to become a parent, to raise, provide for and protect a child.
Teens have learned how to avoid having intercourse by having sex in such a way that pregnancy is not possible. One method for each gender is cunnilingus (for the female) or fellatio (for the male). These do open the possibilities for STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases), including HPV infection, even throat cancer or HIV. The answer is not to hide these possibilities, but to discuss them so the adolescent has a chance to understand the risks.
Those who do not know make the most mistakes. The consequences of those mistakes often affect a person for the rest of his or her life. The knowledge young people need is not just about sex. It’s about everything they may be exposed to in their lives, including at school, on the streets, on televison and on the internet.
Innocence in childhood becomes ignorance in adulthood. Innocent children suffer great disadvantages. Ignorant adults become victims of all kinds of problems. To make life worse, ignorant adults who received little help from their parents tend to be shy about asking for help from others when they are adults. In other words, ignorant adults tend to remain ignorant, often to the extent of refusing to learn when they have the opportunity.
There are no advantages for a child to remain innocent. There are huge and harmful disadvantages for an adult to be ignorant about the realities of life. One of those disadvantages is that ignorant adults tend to be more fearful of more different things than those who are knowledgeable. They also tend to lack empathy and often find it hard to be sympathetic. These are critically important characteristics we want in the generation that will soon run our country.
If you want a child who never grows up, get a dog or cat. If you are the parent of a child, help that child become a well balanced and responsible adult. It’s the primary life responsibility of every parent. Talk about it.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book of easy and inexpensive solutions to seemingly impossible problems. He gives advice through his web site and his internet group. To learn more about these go to http://billallin.com