Are kids really getting to be kids these days?
I was watching Modern Family the other day, and it was the episode with Manny's birthday party. As the preparations are made for his party, Manny starts to realize that even though he's a kid in age, he's never acted like one. He worries that he lost his childhood and starts to regress a bit trying to find himself.
A few weeks ago, I went to Boyfriend's niece's 11th birthday party. Talk about a little adult. Niece has always acted older than she is. She's a very mature, precocious 11-year-old. She has two very young half-sisters and she has had to provide a lot of the care and "mothering" for them. Niece has also been moved around a lot due to family circumstances. She's had to grow up very quickly, but is a bit of an anomaly. As much as she acts like a mature young lady, she is still very much a kid in her play and the toys she likes. She's in that awkward in between stage where in her heart and body she still is a kid, but in her mind and soul she isn't.
In my building, I see little kids acting way beyond their ages. R, my little apocalypse buddy (who is doing much better, by the by, especially since D is out on formal suspension following the Hulk'ed-out chair throwing incident), is the eldest, but at 10-years-old, he's hardly prepared to be the man of the house. He has many very young siblings, and is often up in the middle of the night feeding the babies. How can a kid concentrate in school when he worries about keeping his siblings fed at home? While he may be extremely well-spoken, put together, and articulate on the outside, what is he inside? Another middle school student is late to school every day because he has to get all his younger siblings off to school on the bus. He is falling behind in ELA, which he has first period, since he misses half the instruction time. Is it okay to sacrifice one student's grades in order to help boost the potential academic success of 3 others?
The whole "growing up too fast" hits close to home. When I was in high school, my mom was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. She went through intense chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and sickness. When I was at school, I was the model advanced placement, top 2% of my class student, but at home, I helped take care of my mom. I got food for her, when she could eat, I ran errands, and I cleaned up when she was sick. She passed away the second to last day of my senior year. After that, I stepped into her shoes a bit. As an only child, it was just me and my dad, so I took over the cooking and cleaning, not something an 18 year old is necessary prepared to do. But it helped me cope and it had to be done, so it was.
I guess there's two points to this post. One, don't take anyone at face-value, because you never know what's going on behind their face. Household environments, family structures, personal experiences, etc all have the potential to be uber tough, especially when working with urban populations. Two, when you can, let kids be kids. Let them play (and not just video games, real imaginative play), let them be curious, let them try things, and accept responsibilities that are not theirs to have yet. As educators, we can't control what goes on when they leave us, but we can help them to have something good while they're with us.