Too Soon?

pillowcaseToday was the day we’d all been looking forward to for quite some time. Our three-year old son was finally going to get to meet his hero, Darth Vader, in person.

We woke up early and rushed to Hollywood Studios in the hopes that we could sign him up for Jedi training. Nevermind the fact that kids were suppose to be four to participate. We were willing to tell a little white lie if it meant that our son could finally go head to head with his hero.

Once scanned in the park we moved as fast as we could. There were folks quicker than us, but we were able to get him signed up for the 10:20 show. Nobody asked him for his ID and nobody asked him his age. We had even told him to say he was four if anyone asked.

It was only 8:30 so we had a little time to walk around the park. Meanwhile the only thing on any of our minds was the fact that Derek was getting ready to be up on stage with Darth Vader. We came back early and since his training wouldn’t begin for a few minutes, my wife took him to watch the first group of kids/Jedis battle Darth Vader and his evil Storm Troopers. We thought this would psych him up.

Well you will never believe what happened next. When my son saw Darth Vader in person he was terrified. His exact words were, “Darth Vader is a scary monster!”

What?

We rushed to the park, got him on the list, even convinced his reluctant sister to join him, only to have him opt out at the last-minute?

Are you kidding me?

I was angry.
I couldn’t believe it.
What a waste of time!

And then it hit me.
Darth Vader is a scary monster.
That is his M.O..
Why would wouldn’t my three-year old, who still uses his pacifier and still drinks from a sippy cup be frightened by him? 

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htttp://www.disney-pal.com/Disneyland/images/jedi_training_academy1.jpg

Playing make-believe with action figures and seeing “the real thing” in person are two totally different things. And the more I think about it, my son’s reaction makes total sense. Heck, I think I’d pee my pants if Darth Vader even so much as glanced my way.

You know what? I’m glad my son is afraid of things that are scary and I’m comforted by the fact that he still lets us know. I worry about the fact that kids today are forced to grow up too soon. Or at the very least, they are exposed to things much earlier than I believe they should be.

This year I have encountered children saying and doing things that have absolutely floored me. Their actions and their words have forced me to have conversations with them and with their parents that I would’ve never imagined.

Conversely, children today are able to accomplish more than I think we could’ve ever imagined. Elementary school students are coding, middle school students are using Makerspaces to create robots and high school students are designing their own apps.

On a more personal note, I am quite certain that my wife and I will need to have “The Talk” with our nine-year old daughter any day now. But I also know that this is the same girl who anxiously awaits Santa’s arrival each year and the same girl who doesn’t mind holding my hand in public. So therein lies the paradox. We want to help our children grow up, but at the same time we want to preserve their childhood.

Just last week I was reading the Dr. Seuss’ Fish Out Of Water to my son. Midway through the book I read the lines that went something like, “they looked downtown and they looked uptown for …” Without missing a beat, my son started singing “uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up.”  Lyrics from Bruno Mars’ new hit song Uptown Funk. What in the world? He is three! My wife and I have obviously played this song around him enough for him to know some of the lyrics and I’m not really sure what this says about us as parents.

Looking back on the whole Darth Vader Experience I am left with many questions. Mainly, how do we prepare our students and our children for the world they are facing and the world that they will face? This is a question for which I have no good answer. In the words of singer/songwriter Bob Seger, I believe that oftentimes the most difficult decisions lie in “what to leave in, what to leave out.”

I think my purpose in writing this piece was to help remind myself and others of the fact that children only get one chance at childhood. We mustn’t steal this from them and we mustn’t let their increased ability to interact with and navigate the world they live in, cause us to forget the fact that they are still children.

Then again, I think that I worry too much and need to start finding comfort in the fact that I am doing the best that I can. I am going to make mistakes along the way. More than I’m sure I could ever imagine. I must always remember that I am not alone on this journey. And that a journey with few mistakes would be over way too soon and end with very little growth. I was never good at drawing straight lines anyway.

For now I am content in knowing that my son thinks that Darth Vader is a scary monster and that my daughter is still willing to hold my hand in public.

But she is starting to tug.

And that’s okay…

I need to let her grow up.

I just don’t want it to be too soon.

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Derek playing with his Star Wars action figures the day before seeing Darth

5 thoughts on “Too Soon?

  1. This is a great reflection piece. As parents I think we sometimes do try to wish away their life by say “I can’t wait until…” But you’re right. We need to enjoy them and getting to play action figures and hold hands!

  2. Such a great piece of reflection and writing, Jon. Working at the high school level, I see the impact of kids who are left alone to explore and be exposed to things they aren’t ready for developmentally. Sometimes it’s because of neglect, and sometimes it’s because it’s HARD to parent, and sometimes it’s because kids (and their parents for them) want to grow up quickly. Kudos to you for recognizing their fears and that they are still children and for sheltering. Your kids are lucky to have you!
    Jennifer

  3. Hi Jon,

    As always, your reflection makes me think of my own children as well as those in our schools. Watching my son and daughter over Christmas Break, there are so many times I see them growing up and want to slow them down, because it feels too soon for me! Somehow, there is a “sweet spot” of providing enough support and comfort while also providing the encouragement for them to grow and discover. As a parent, I assume I’m probably making the same kinds of mistakes many others make, and hope that my continued love and attention will help to right the course (even if it isn’t a straight one!)

    Meanwhile, I really worry about those kids who don’t have the same support or care, whether because of a lack of parental presence or a parent who is unable to provide it for one reason or another. So many kids ARE growing up too soon because they haven’t been allowed to remain children long enough, and the lives that they are forced to lead makes me sad for them, and for the children that they may one day raise.

    Meanwhile, continue to have fun with your two kiddos, and don’t let them grow up too soon!

  4. Thank you for writing this post. I struggle with “growing up” as my kids are getting older, but I keep on trying to figure out what is actually just DIFFERENT about being a kid with instant access to information or touchscreen devices.

    I don’t believe that our kids brains are being re-wired, but I do believe there is something that changes when you are able to make Siri a part of your everyday inquiry process. For my kids, that is the case.

    My daughter has already had “the talk” and she is 8. She was ready in a way that I was not at that age. Is it because of her “digital precociousness”?

    Childhood and innocence are not the same thing, but I don’t think we need to limit either in our efforts to prepare kids for their inevitable future. Perhaps, we just need to redefine both for the modern age. Modern childhood entails media literacy. Modern innocence means having a supportive parent to guide your google queries rather than just relying on “safe search”.

    We aren’t dealing with a new species of child. They still fear monsters. But, their monsters probably have an Instagram account and are willing to post pictures of you making your worst mistakes. It is not too soon to talk about this.

  5. Another great piece Jon! All things in time…this adage has provided a guiding theme in raising our kids and has framed my decision making in supporting the children I have taught. As a middle level person ensuring “developmentally responsive” experiences is not always the most popular stand — but critical to supporting kids in their journey. We must provide a place where kids can be kids.

    Darth will come and go, your healthy response will provide your son with a sense of self, that will be forever! Thank you for sharing your ideas, you really got me thinking :-). Happy 2015!

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