Out of Step

**Disclaimer**  It’s not personal.  It’s societal.  Hold on to your hats.  This is a rant.

There is much about the world today that I don’t understand.  Big Brother, Celebrity or otherwise, I have never got that.  One Direction.  Can’t get my head round that.  And much of the stuff around children and their upbringing leaves me stumped.  Like bras for pre-pubescent girls, or t-shirts with slogans that denote how sexy they are, or small children watching horror movies or playing Grand Theft Auto.  Or babies with pierced ears.  Or expensive tablets for toddlers for that matter.  I don’t get those either.

I used to think that I had it figured.  We lived in a community of adults and together we would bring up our young.  We were the adults, the parents, not their best friends, and, because we had their best interests at heart there would be early nights, and kids TV that went off at a reasonable hour and clothes that looked like they belonged on the backs of children and all that jazz.  The first time someone had a go at me for telling off their child for attacking mine was a wake-up call.  In more ways than that I know that I am out of step.

Most of the time I zoom about my life, too busy to worry about it overly much, but, every so often it is shoved in my face, just how much of an oddball I must seem.  It isn’t only that I am picky and choosy about what my children watch on the telly or play on the computer, or anything like that.  This time it was the whole leaving primary school fandango.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am just as much aware of the passing of an era as anyone else.  When Sam left Year 6 behind my heart ached for not only the fact of his lack of awareness of how his life would change but also for us all, the adults who would miss him, who I would miss.  When I attend a leaver’s assembly as a teacher, I am just as much filled with emotion at the thought of how much of a hole these cranky, too hot, too big for the furniture young people will leave behind them, how much of their growing I have witnessed, and how much of their transformation into young adults I will not see.  As a teacher, when they come up to the front to be feted with awards, I am just as much filled with joy and pride as anyone else.

It’s the other stuff I don’t get.  I mean, it’s a reasonably big deal for us teachers, it’s perhaps a bigger deal for us parents (especially if it’s our youngest child, or all the children are off to different schools, a community scattered far and wide across an anonymous city), but is it the same for them?  I don’t remember my last day of primary school.  I do remember as a six or seven year old gazing enviously upon The Leavers, a capitalised state where you were allowed to sit on the slope outside the baby classroom eating ice lollies (probably lemon) and looking forward to the day when I would relish such privilege.

There was similarly no ceremony when I left secondary school.  For me, I left with a massive sense of relief, shaking the dust of the place from the soles of my shoes, glad that I wasn’t planning to darken the doors of the classrooms again, excited that I was off to pastures new.  When I left Sixth Form College, the place where, for an intense two years, I discovered that I wasn’t alone, that there were other mouthy, bookish girls like me for whom the ambition to university was a given, not an oddity, aware of the day it all ended, we made our own celebration.  My friend Liz and I stood at the Clock Tower, the place where her way home went one way and mine went another, reluctant to leave, cracking jokes and calling goodbye, excited about the future, knowing that, even though we wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class any more, we would be friends forever.

So why are we suddenly picking them up from primary school and sending them off to places unknown in stretched limos?  They are eleven years old!  Some of them are still ten.  What have they done, really, to warrant such expense, such ostentation?  And it doesn’t stop there.  There are endless assemblies with powerpoints and heart-string-twanging soundtracks, prize-givings, discos-that-are-called-proms, the list goes on.

It’s not just Year 6, it has to be said.  Gone are the days when it was a fancy dress party to mark the end of nursery.  No, now we must have a mock graduation ceremony for infants barely out of nappies, a celebration of their 2.i in play dough.  We must make a big deal out of a move down the corridor into Year 3.  We must look at each other and declare with amazement at the passage of time, ‘I can’t believe they’re leaving the Infants!’

We seem infected with a desire to rush our children into premature adulthood.  No longer is it acceptable for the Biology Field Trip to be in some field in the back end of nowhere in North Wales.  Instead, we parents must fork out instalments over years in order for our offspring to enjoy a tour of the New York Stock Exchange, or take part in some sporting fixtures in Australia.  What must we do to celebrate their real graduation from a real university, their real entry into adulthood?  Send them to the moon?  They won’t be happy with a card with a key on it, that’s for sure.

And what will they think about it all when they get there?  These children, who I have seen, at seven, already bored by constant magicians and increasingly expensive birthday celebrations.  What else is there for them, these over privileged, over entertained, over feted youngsters we haven’t allowed to take their own sweet time, so keen are we to make it all about ourselves, to show what amazing parents we are, what fabulous schools we run, to enjoy the cute factor without consideration of the consequences.

I wonder what the Too Much Too Soon generation will make of it all.




21 thoughts on “Out of Step

  1. A resounding cheer just went though my entire body reading this, because if you hadn’t written it there was going to come a day when I sure as hell did! YES! YES! YES! to everything here. I must be an oddball too. Yes, when did the graduation from nursery crap start? Limousines for year 6 proms? No actually that seemed to start around my seventh year of teaching. How it happened I don’t know. This generation, many of them, will never know what real joy it is to *really* achieve anything because they only have to blow their nose correctly and they are given a reward for it. My bug bear? Rewarding children for having basic good manners!! Oh yes. That. When did *that* start? How about just damn well insisting on it and leave it there. We (teachers and parents) are not here to be our children’s friends. We are here to guide them and show them through our own behaviour how to act responsibly in society, how to take rejection, how to work hard, how to have fun and play and everything else. Celebrity culture is ruining our children, because there are more and more parents now who live their lives according to it and aspire for their children to be the same. Ooh I could go on all night! It puts pressure on me as a parent and makes me despair as a teacher. It really does. But I would not change how I do things. For all the stares and the whispers that perhaps I am a bit odd and old fashioned, I know what I do is right. When did kids start having huge parties the whole class are invited to EVERY birthday? Not something I do for many reasons and my little one has given up asking after 3 birthdays. He knows what the answer will be. Will he enjoy parties more when he is older? Yes he damn well will, because it will be unique, different. Not an expectation. The same with expensive foreign holidays. (I have worked in schools on sink council estates where kids are off to Florida on holiday. Parents who don’t wok. HOW??) They say parenting doesn’t come with a handbook, so there is no right or wrong way. I disagree. I have to go through such rigours to ensure I, as a kinship carer, are doing it right. It wouldn’t hurt some parents to have to go though the same rigours. It’s odd. You have to have a license to own a dog but not to have children. Yet, this friendly, “you are never wrong my precious, have everything you want my darling” parenting is ruining childhood. Mine leaves infant school next year. He will not be “grown up” he’ll have barely turned 7. I intend for him to be a child for as long as is possible. You’re an adult for an awful long time.

    Okay, in danger of my comment becoming a blog post! Great stuff Nancy! Knew we were on the same page. Rant over(ish) 🙂

    1. It feels better, doesn’t it?
      But at the same time it is hard to resist. Thankfully I have a core group of friends who are equally perplexed and we are (just about) holding out together. Will be harder when the children are older…except that mine won’t have to rebel very far to be rebels. Hopefully.

  2. Oh Nancy, I attribute most of my grey hairs to the battles that I have had with my children, in-laws, well meaning friends and others in my attempts to let them have a true childhood. A childhood where they could be unselconsciously happy being themselves without the worry of their image. Ridding our house of television during their primary years made us naturally weird and they had to get used to being different and put up with the questions. They hated it at the time, but 3/4 appreciate it now as they recognise that it gave them time to play, dream and read.
    Keep up the fight against the pollution of childhood. Well ranted!

    1. 🙂 thanks.
      Having a Sam in the house certainly insulates the younger ones from being forced into growing up before they are ready.
      Long may they be young.

  3. Oh yes – too much too soon indeed and for doing nothing more than leaving primary school. When every life event is hyped up to ever escalating peaks of excitement where does it all end. I like a bit of fun as much as the next mum but we used to celebrate with a trip to the pub with a garden for a coke and a go on the big slide. What does this razzamatazz contribute to the lives of young children. It does tell them that heightenend emotion is a good thing and once mum has stopped booking limos, what’s an easy way of getting that high? Hmm – let me think now.

  4. I left primary school in 1992 and we made a pretty big deal of it. This may be exaggerated in my memory because I was the one person going to a different high school where I knew nobody, so it was a big deal to me. But I wasn’t the only person collecting autographs.

    I think the culture of our primary school may have been a little odd in our shared belief that we were all miniature teenagers – my experience was like leaving Grange Hill for St. Trinians.

    However, in support of your point, making a big deal of the end of year 6 did come entirely from us kids – nothing was laid on. And had it been, and had we had the kind of childhood you describe, well, one limo ride must blend into another.

    1. I think you are right – I have no particular objection to celebrations that spring from the children, and collecting autographs is a tradition that (from chatting with my mum!) seems to date back a good few generations!

  5. As I am a childless early twenties man, I’ll contribute a cold analytic perspective. First up, you hit the nail on the head and as a teacher who actually grew up in this bullshit himself, I actively disencourage some of this nonsense because in my own experience, it has just been frustrating.

    The way we reward every little action actually demotivates our higher-attaining pupils – it begins to rankle with them when they get no praise or recognition for their ingenuity, creativity and effort because I am too busy swaddling my badboy with goldstars simply to prevent him from continuing to be a massive dickhead. We should praise wildly, but only that which is praiseworthy.

    Next up, proms. I am reading a book called The Mystic Masseur and there is a passage describing a village where it is colourless, grey and mundane enough that the people.feel impelled to put on little rituals of colour and energy. Proms are similarly depressing and I don’t know what they signify other than the final days before the loony kids who ruined our GCSEs got sent to the Juvey. We ritualise just to divide the morbid sameness of modern childhood into bitesize chunks. Our kids face at least twelve years of being re-exposed to the same boring carousel of teaching activities.by teachers trying to encourage passionate interest in a barren curriculum that leaves they themselves feeling, at best, flaccid.

    1. Isn’t it good to know that others are “out of step” with you. I was also looked at as the strange parent, that didn’t let my children do all the same things as the others, and at times you could see the pitying looks these parents gave my boys, as if they were missing out on some great life events, my youngest wouldn’t even go to the prom for his year 11, as he said, what have I done? “Gone to the same place for 5 years because you said I had too.” My eldest thinks it’s done because his generation will have to work themselves into the ground before they will get anywhere? 😳. So thanks for the rant Nancy, this family is totally with you.

  6. 🙂 sometimes I keep my oddness under my hat, but thankfully I have enough friends around me who think similarly to keep me sane!
    Thanks for the lovely comment.

  7. So totally with you, Nancy. 3 cheers for this post! I feel sure i would’ve written something similar before long. Thankfully we don’t have over the top proms at our primary school (people are too sensible!) but I do sometimes feel out of step even there, with certain decisions and values we try to stick by not being what other parents choose, prompting regular conversations along the lines of ‘They have this, why can’t we?’

    The fast forwarding of childhood is rampant and across our culture. It worries me deeply.

    Have you signed up to the Too Much Too Soon campaign by Save Childhood Movement? I blogged about it about a year ago. Here’s the link: http://wp.me/p2oDmP-rd

    PS Shall we start an Out of Step Mother’s Club?!

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