What Happened To Childhood?

By Kelsi Taylor

When I think of my childhood I think about climbing trees and running through sprinklers, mud smeared across my face with not a care in the world. I remember making friendships bound by the phrase “Hey, you’re four too!” accepting everyone because exclusivity was not even in our vocabulary. I learnt to read from picture books with talking animals, not from the glossy pages of gossip magazines. I remember learning to count birds in my backyard not the number of Facebook friends I had.

But times have changed.

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In today’s society children seem to be growing up at such a rapid rate that they are accelerating past childhood. We see five-year-olds playing on iPhones learning how to swipe before they’ve even fully mastered the art of writing. We see Instagram accounts of two-year-olds with a number of followers higher than they can count. We see one-year-olds painted with makeup and glitter and forced into beauty contests, eradicating any ‘flaws’ before they’ve even had a chance to develop awareness of any. David Elkind, Professor of Child Study, Senior Resident Scholar at Tufts University explains, “Our society is compressing childhood more and more to a point where children are not children for very long.”

Child beauty pageants can start with children from just six months old being judged on their image before they can recognise their own reflection. The main things judged in a child beauty pageant are facial beauty and wardrobe due to the nature of children, particularly toddlers, unable to be judged on personality due to their age. This sends an entirely wrong message to children both participating and witnessing.

Convincing a child that the way to win in life is by altering their own appearance and trying to impress others is morally wrong but according to pageant supporters, it’s just like playing dress-ups. The differences, of course, is that if it was only pretend the children would not be rewarded for making their eyelashes look longer, they would not be judged for being a little chubby or penalised because they could not afford more diamantes on their dress. As Syd Brown, child and adolescent psychologist details, “What they are learning basically is that they have one characteristic which is of total primary importance, and that is their body and their attractiveness.”

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Technology and the media have become a massive and inescapable part of our modern society. Even though there has been an increased time spent staring at screens and communicating online rather than in person, that doesn’t mean childhood should suffer. Sure, it’s great for entertaining a child when their parents can’t play with them, but 6-year-olds with social media is just not necessary and frankly, damaging.

Once a child is on the internet you can’t filter what they may see; sure you can block certain websites or material but just because an image may not be deemed inappropriate does not mean it will not affect the child. An edited image of a model may not appear overtly inappropriate, however, to a little girl seeing a repetitive trend of long legs and photoshopped bodies it will lead her to question why she doesn’t look the same. The internet is overflowing with these images of models and photoshopped women each with the same mould. This leads children to believe there is only one way to look and this can influence young minds who, at their age, have no way of understanding that the photos and media featured on the internet are in no way representative of real life. These ideas can be particularly dangerous when they spend as much time staring at screens as they do experiencing the real world.

Childhood should be a time when we learn about ourselves and the world around us in a safe environment where no one is judging us for our mistakes. It should be a time when we can have fun and develop our own personality and interests void of the pressures of the media or fear of judgement. This is why we need to prevent media and technology from interfering with childhoods and let our children revel in the bubble childhood free from scrutiny and clouded morals.

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