Warning: Mixed Metaphors Ahead, Proceed With Caution
After our New Year’s Eve drive debacle last week, I was too tired to .. well, anything. The girls and I had changed out of our fancy dresses at my Grandma’s place and, in our rush to get our rag-tag band home, had haphazardly shoved them, along with our shoes, into the back of the car. I would normally have, at the very least, grabbed the dresses and untangled them, but, as you might remember, there was nothing normal about that night. When we finally got home, I left everything behind but the kids and ran headlong into the house.
The next day, Luau was kind enough to retrieve the stuff from the car. He put the dresses in the dry cleaning bin, but apparently wasn’t sure what to do with the shoes, so he left them for me to put away. I found them like this.
At first I just thought it was sort of adorable – this little evolutionary tableau. And yes, that’s where any other right-headed person would have left it. But that’s not what I do. So here we are.
You see, years ago, Luau and I attended a talk given by a child psychologist who specializes in treating kids with anxiety. And she talked a lot about how much pressure there is on our children these days, much of it because of their access to technology.
She talked about how different their world is than ours was – how they are bombarded with information, coming at them from all sides without filter, and pressured to process it and respond to it – and to each other – in real time. And she talked about what we can do to help. And, believe it or not, it started with shoes. Yes, really. And pretty much anything that starts with shoes is going to get my attention.
Shoes are the perfect vehicle, she explained, through which to examine society’s demand of accelerated development on our kids.
She asked the audience of mostly moms a question. Do you remember shopping for fancy shoes as a little girl? When it was time for a dress, you wore Mary Janes. As you got older, you moved into flats. Eventually, as a teen, a small kitten heel, and then, as if to prove your entry into adulthood, an actual pump with a high heel was finally acceptable. And if you think about it, there really weren’t exceptions.
This seems like a good time to zoom in on the shoes up top to show you what I mean. Shall we?
Mama, old enough to wear whatever the heck I want
That’s how it worked. The ten-year old had the grosgrain bow. The twelve year-old had the more grown-up flat and Mama had the heels. That’s the way it always was. But more and more lately, it seems that it’s not the way it is.
Now? Now we see three year-olds out and about in heels. Now we send 12 and 13 year-olds off to parties in glittering, open-toed, high-heeled sandals. The following image was the first one that came up when I googled “bat mitzvah dress.” It accompanies an article aptly entitled, Choosing a Dress for your Bat Mitzvah …
Bat Mitzvahs are typically 12 and 13. Is there anything about that outfit that says 13?
So the question is, Where did the lines go? When did we stop saying, “That’s just not appropriate for a child”?
The day before my cousin’s New Year’s Eve wedding celebration, Brooke and I went out to get her shoes to go with her dress. While we were at the shop, she saw a different dress – that was bubble gum pink – and said that she wanted to wear it to the party. I’m not sure how to describe it other than to say that it looked like a smaller version of something that Courtney Stodden would wear for a night on the town.
I’m not kidding. Picture this in hot pink, minus the double Ds and, oh, just for fun, minus the straps, because yup, it was strapless too.
The shopkeeper overheard Brooke’s declaration that she would wear the pink dress to the wedding and came gliding over, only too happy to offer it, and it’s $120 price tag, up. “Oh, you like this one, honey?” she said, holding it’s entire quarter-yard of shirred lycra fabric up for us to fully view. I looked at her pointedly. “Thank you, but NO.”
She looked confused. “Why not?” she asked.
“Because she’ll be wearing black patent flats with it,” I explained, “not perspex stripper heels.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with Perspex stripper heels, mind you. Unless you’re TEN.
She still looked confused, so I said, “It’s just not appropriate for a 10 year-old. Thank you.”
“But she likes it,” she said.
“She’s ten,” I said. “She likes anything that’s pink. But it’s my job to help her understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. That’s … not.”
We left the dress behind and went to another store.
You see, this is where we are. We are fighting a tide that desperately wants to make our children small adults. A 10-year old wants a dress that looks like it came from Frederick’s of Hollywood? Go for it! An eleven year-old wants to wear make-up to school and screw-me pumps to a party? Why not?
Why not? Because they’re KIDS. And the more we encourage them, or allow them, or at the very least blithely pretend not to notice as they play at being adults before they’re ready, they more likely they are to end up in situations that they, with their limited life experience, knowledge, poise and maturity, can not handle. We’re setting them up for failure. And just to be clear, I’m not even talking about kids with added challenges navigating the social landscape. I’m talking about ALL of them.
I talked to a friend the other day who told me that she would never read her son’s texts because it would be “a violation of his privacy.” I’m going to tell you what I told her. “With all due respect, I think that’s utter crap.”
When we gave Katie her cell phone, we told her in no uncertain terms that she should have absolutely no expectation of privacy when using it. Anything in writing, we explained – anything that comes to or leaves your phone and is sent electronically to any other human being on the face of the Earth is not private. Anything you write or receive, you should expect to be read by us and should be safe to be read by others. Heck, we even wrote a contract in which we made her swear that she’d never write anything she wouldn’t send to her Grandpa.
I really don’t think that any of us have truly managed to wrap our heads around what it means to give a child – and yes, at eleven, twelve, thirteen, they are CHILDREN – access to electronic communication. In any form. We are entrusting them to do what most of us can’t – to exercise discretion, to control their emotions, to take time to respond, to always consider consequences, to understand the boundaries of privacy, to know that trust is precarious and friendships don’t always last, and .. to do it all in the blink of an eye as they write back, respond to all, snap a photo, post a status or do whatever the hell else they’re doing .. in a matter of seconds. I don’t care how awesome a kid is; they’re kids. They don’t have the skill set necessary to manage those demands.
When I was in college, I got into a car wreck. Okay, fine, I got into a BUNCH of car wrecks, but one that is salient to this conversation. It had been snowing heavily and I had skidded off the road. In the time that it had taken me to gather my wits and restart my stalled car, another car had followed in my tracks (literally) and slammed into me. When I called my dad to explain why this one had been “completely unavoidable,” he called bullshit. “Jessie,” he said, his anger and frustration and worry steaming through the phone lines, it wasn’t unavoidable; it was a lack of experience. “But, but, Dad,” I said, “I skidded. I wasn’t going too fast, I swear.”
Despite the fact that we both knew that probably wasn’t true, it also wasn’t the point. My dad explained that even IF the skid had truly been unavoidable, even IF I wasn’t driving too fast when it happened, even IF there had been no way to stay on the road by turning into the skid in order to maintain control of the car, even IF, IF and IF a thousand other variables had been the case .. a more experienced driver wouldn’t have still been sitting there to get hit. The car had stalled because I had panicked, he explained. When I had slammed on the break (which a more experienced driver would know never to do in the snow), I had failed to engage the clutch. None of those were even things I’d thought of after the fact, no less in the moment, when the emotion was high and I was panicking my way off the road and into a wreck.
Computers and smart phones and all this social media — they’re an awful lot like a car. They’re all extremely useful vehicles that get us from one place to another, that connect us, that make our world smaller and our lives better … until they’re not. Until they’re weapons because they’re in the hands of drivers who really aren’t ready for them. At least not under duress.
Just as we don’t hand our kids the keys to our cars and tell them to head out onto the highway alone, neither can we hand them a phone or a computer and abdicate responsibility for what comes next. Our kids need time – time to mature, to grow, to learn to control their impulses and to consider the consequences of their actions. And they need it BEFORE being allowed to freely use the tools with which they can create a record of something that, no matter how ill a reflection of their true character it might be, will last FOREVER.
High heels are great, but they’re awfully hard to walk in before you’re ready.