I was people-watching at a posh restaurant while waiting for my friend to join me. People with money, power, expensive clothes, cars, and dates arrived. I began wondering what I was doing; was the great food going to somehow make this obscene display of affluence okay?
I was underdressed and evaluating that in my mind, when all of a sudden I heard someone laugh. It wasn’t exactly the laugh that caught my attention, but rather the lack of laughter from most of the guests there. In fact, prior to her laugh, people had the right clothes and accessories, but none of them looked very happy. These people were what author Sidney Sheldon would call social skeletons.
Magazines, TV, and music in our society all focus on bodies. Thin, young, and beautiful bodies make claims to more money, power, and fame. Our children have never had a narrower concept of beauty, nor have they ever had the pressure of being able to pose for a photo and have millions view it from a social network.
Our young people’s minds aren’t fully developed until the age of 22 years, and yet they’re growing up fast. They can have plastic surgery, Botox, and other cosmetic procedures to help them fit into that narrow concept of beauty at just 16 (with their parent’s blessings).
The most distressing part of all of this is how society depicts children, there’s no going back. You cannot take a 6-year-old and make them a beauty queen, shower them with photographs and accolades, and then tell them, “Okay, it’s over. You can go back to being a normal little girl now.” Once a child is forced into that media-driven craze, there’s no way to redeem the innocence stolen from their childhood.
Many parents will tell me that their 3, 4, 5, and 6-year-olds want to be in pictures, movies, and magazines. I don’t buy it. I think children at that age must be protected, guided, and mostly loved. I’m convinced that it’s the parent who wants the social accolades for having a beautiful, talented, and charismatic child. Kids want their parents’ approval most of all, and it’s more likely that if they want beauty it’s because parents want them to be beautiful.
There are things you can practice in your home now to protect your child’s childhood. It takes strong boundaries on your part as the parent because the media has seeped into every nook and cranny of our homes. It’s coming via iPhones, the Internet, Facebook and Television. The only way to avoid its influence is to limit its access.
Here are 10 smart ways to keep your kids from growing up too fast:
1. Don’t let your child have an account on a social network until they are 13 years old
Earlier than that is too early. I’m an expert for Truecare, and they monitor social networks for parents. The number of suicides each year with children being cyber-bullied or sexualized on these networks is staggering. Keep your kids safe.
2. Have time limits with all phones, computers, and TV
Dinner is one of those off times since it’s a specific time each night. The phones are stored in mom’s/dad’s bedroom.
3. Know who your child is talking to on the internet
This is more easily accomplished when your computer has a large screen and is placed in a central location within the home.
4. Make healthy living part of your family activities
Have a set family day each week, and make that a time for the whole family to engage in an activity together.
5. Go clothes shopping with your children and guide them
When they want to wear something you feel is age-inappropriate, say, “No.” That’s your right and your duty as a parent.
6. Eating healthy is important, and it’s modeled by the parents
If you don’t eat fast food, then no one, including you, eats fast food. If you’re concerned with your child’s weight, deal with it the same way you address other health matters. Gentle correction when you’re alone with your child is all that’s necessary. Children grow at different rates; respect that.
7. Makeup is not necessary, especially before the teen years
If you have a young child who insists on wearing cosmetics prior to that, talk to them so you can understand the feelings that are causing her to feel like she needs to look better or different.
8. Cell phones are a privilege (Possibly a necessity with single parents’ schedules)
However, when you give your child a cell phone, make sure you also give them rules with consequences if the rules are broken.
9. Limiting types of music in your home is important, just like limiting TV times and networks in your home
If you aren’t in the home to monitor it, then make it impossible for your child to be exposed (I never had cable in my home until my daughters left for college).
10. Make it mandatory that at least three days each week you eat dinner with your children
Make this a meal that is fun, stress-free, and enjoyable. A blessing prior to this meal helps “seal the deal.”
The one thing we give our children is their memories of childhood. They pass it on to the next generation. When I listen to patients and I ask them about their life, their story of what their parents deemed valuable is told very clearly by these memories.
What you give them in childhood is up to you. Help create a place for your children to grow up safe. Let them pretend to be astronauts, scientists, actresses, or whatever. There’s time enough for them to have dates, limos, parties, and beauty pageants, but they can’t experience childhood ever again.
Mary Jo Rapini MEd, LPC is a psychotherapist, author, speaker, and intimacy counselor.