Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Let kids be kids"

Have you ever heard this phrase? I have, and it's always in situations where I don't like it.

For instance: "Don't expect your children to clean up around the house. Let kids be kids."

Or, "Don't encourage your children to care for baby dolls. They're babies themselves! Let kids be kids."

Or, "Don't give children any responsibility. Let kids be kids."

I hate this. The very nature of being a child is about learning to be an adult. Kids love to pretend to be grownups. They blossom when given responsibility. They enjoy tending dolls, or if they're lucky, real babies. They don't complain that their childhood is being taken away. They are proud. And when teenagers, especially, are given real work and real responsibility, they are happier and get a chance to prepare for adulthood. Teenagers don't say, "Let me be a kid." They say, "Let me be an adult."

Here's where I would like to see this phrase used instead:

"Don't advertise to children. Let kids be kids."

"Dress children in age-appropriate clothes. Let kids be kids."

"Give kids unstructured time every day. Let kids be kids."

"Don't encourage romance at a young age. Let kids be kids."

"Use clean language around children, and don't let them watch violent or inappropriate shows. Let kids be kids."

Those are some things I could get behind. But keeping kids in a box to shelter them from the good things grownups do, the things we would like them to do when they are older, is just keeping them from learning how to grow up. Let kids be kids, but don't stop them from trying to be the best of what adults are either. That's part of being a kid.


Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

Ooph! I'm so sorry to hear that people use this phrase in your first set of examples at all. I've been fortunate to always hear it used the second context

Dr. Thursday said...

A VERY fascinating topic. I felt driven to explore what GKC had to say about this, and Icannot say that I succeeded, but I found two quotes which may be worth contemplating:

The misapprehension of the real charge can be conveniently tested by the old saying that boys will be boys. The charge, right or wrong, is rather that boys won't be boys. In so far as they have a case, the critics of youth are not criticising the youthful spirit of youth. Rather they are criticising the alleged loss of it. Nobody with a gleam of sanity has any objection to boys being boys. The question is about boys being men, about boys being old men, about boys being silly old men or wicked old men. The point can be seen more clearly in the actual case of a child, and some of those covered by the controversy are practically children. It is not a question of the liberty of a child to be childish. A child having a dozen cocktails, or a child having a course of psychological sex-dramas, is of the same order of imagery as a child having a grey beard or a child having a bald head. In the case of this criticism the old are not rebuking the young for being young. The old may be wrong, and in many cases certainly are wrong; but their criticism is a symptom and a symbol of something much more subtle and special than the old comedy contrast between the heavy father and the lightminded son. It is rather the suspicion that the son is not lightminded, and certainly not light-hearted.
[GKC ILN Dec 9 1922 CW32:499]

It is true, of course, that marvels, even marvels of transformation, illustrate the noblest histories and traditions. But we should notice a rather curious difference which the instinct of popular legend has in almost all cases kept. The wonder-working done by good people, saints and friends of man, is almost always represented in the form of restoring things or people to their proper shapes. St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Children, finds a boiling pot in which two children have been reduced to a sort of Irish stew. He restores them miraculously to life, because they ought to be children and ought not to be Irish stew. But he does not turn them into angels; and I can remember no case in hagiology of such an official promotion.
[GKC ILN Nov 22 1913 CW29:588]

I expect there are others; if I get some time I will try to hunt around. This is worth exploring - thanks!

Enbrethiliel said...


Your second list is great.

But you're right that we don't hear the phrase used in that context very often these days. =)

Unknown said...

I definitely think context is important. I hate it when people say it in the first context, my grandma always cleaned up after us and that did us no favors! I had to learn responsibility the hard way, and now I always try to involve my daughter in chore time and clean up time. It's sad, but not enough people value the things you listed on the second context of the phrase. =(

Heather said...

Hear hear! I grew up sheltered from good responsibility and bad responsibility alike, which did me no favors. I think that was born less out of "let kids be kids" and more out of my parents' and families' inclination to baby me and describe me (as opposed to my cousins) as "not able to handle responsibility on any level," though. But in retrospect, maybe that was a symptom of "let kids be kids." ... I don't know. All i know is I resent and regret that that is how it went down and, to an extent, still goes down despite me being grown up and doing things on my own.

My mom refused to let me get a credit card or handle my own checkbook - ostensibly because "you'll mess up" and "you don't know how" and "it's better if I do it for you because you don't understand the rules and won't understand it if I teach it to you. I ended up getting one when my uncle took me to get one in preparation for going to Europe. And now she wants me to have a car, but doesn't want me to drive it because she thinks I won't be an aggressive enough driver. (ironic).

Lazy and overprotective parents lead to frustrated and lashing out kids who, if fortunate, grow up to realize they have to fight for themselves because no matter what people say, no one else will do it for them as well as they can themselves.

Hm, I think I'm still a little bitter and frustrated...

Yay, Marko!

Maggie said...

AGREED! :) Especially about the dressing and advertising. My goodness.

Sarah said...

Reminds me of the "let boys be boys" saying, always to dismiss or excuse inappropriate and immature behavior.

some guy on the street said...

Heather's tale recalls an Aristotelian aphorism (epigram?) "Those things we must learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."

Sheila said...

Heather, I feel for you. My mom let us (i.e. made us) do a lot of things for ourselves. The few that I never did (answering the phone, mowing the lawn), I still either mess up or fear.

It's hard to let kids do things, because it's easier to do the things yourself. If you let a child do it, you have to hang around to give instruction while they take f o r e v e r doing it, and then you have to do it over because they messed up. But I still think it's worth doing, and I wish more parents would make this sacrifice.

My mother-in-law says it does pay off eventually! She rarely cooks dinner anymore; the oldest kids trade off. That's gotta be nice.

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