Taleb: We’re teaching kids to grow up too quickly

Nardine Taleb, Columnist

Most of our world revolves around our adult lives. When we’re born, most of our parents look at us and wonder what we’ll study, what schools we’ll go to and who we’ll marry. People often feel that life doesn’t really get exciting until you’re 18, 21, 25 years old and so on. One of the things we ask a child when we meet them is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

And though our society can’t prosper without adults and their work, I think we’re teaching children to grow up too fast.

Children are always around adults and seem to adopt adult behaviors. In our society, we give our children toy cars and baby dolls. We give them iPads and iPhones, which I don’t see as a benefit to childhood, but rather a constriction on creativity.

One time, my aunt was encouraging my little cousin to speak to me and my mother on the phone. My cousin elegantly and confidently replied: “Tell them I’m busy. I can’t speak to them right now.” It was hilarious. It demonstrated to me that kids naturally take on adult behaviors. I think rather than encouraging them more in this vein, we should push them to enjoy their years as kids instead of absentmindedly giving them the tools to be adults. Instead of telling them what to be, and to be it quickly.

When we grow up, we wish we were kids again. It’s why Disney movies are appealing to audiences that aren’t kids. Mic.com reported that increasing numbers of millenials are flocking to see movies traditionally marketed towards children. As a 20-year-old, I can tell you that Disney movies like “Up” and “Frozen” resonate with me because they remind me of the innocence of childhood. I’m not saying that I didn’t take advantage of my childhood, but a lot of my time spent as a child was spent thinking of what I would be when I “grew up.” If I could go back, I wouldn’t waste time worrying about my future. If I could go back, I’d play with my dolls a couple hours more, read a couple more kids’ books or run outside in the yard a little longer.

Someone once told me that the reason we grow up so quickly is that the world is demanding. We have no choice. We need to get the best education, the degrees and the stamina to go up against our future. But our world isn’t just demanding—it’s ever-changing. How can we raise kids to face the future when we only have an inkling of what it will look?

Ken Robinson, an advocate for a better education system and more space for creativity, speaks a lot in his speeches about giving children the space to be who they are, rather than what society, or even their parents, want them to be.

One of my favorite anecdotes in his speech “Do schools kill creativity?” is about Gillian Lynne, a choreographer of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” According to Robinson, when Lynne was younger, she was extremely fidgety in class. Teachers called her parents and declared that Lynne had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because she couldn’t focus. Her parents took the young Lynne to a doctor. After the doctor observed her for a bit, he told Lynne to stay in the room while he stepped out for a second. He turned on the radio. From the other room, the doctor and Lynne’s mother watched as Lynne began to sway to the music from the radio. Lynne wasn’t sick and she certainly didn’t have ADHD – she was a dancer.

I believe that kids know intuitively who they’re meant to be. It’s a scary world, and it’s understandable why parents scramble to push their kids into adulthood as fast as they can. But perhaps we’re getting it all wrong. Perhaps, for children to really face the future, they need the room to be children first. I encourage us, adults, to reflect childlike play when we’re around kids. Instead of asking them to sit still, ask them to play a game of tag or a board game. Instead of pulling them into adulthood sooner than necessary, let’s step into childhood with them, once more. We all need time to be kids as a way of coping with the world sometimes, and certainly as a way of facing it.

Nardine is a third-year student who has reduced her extra-curricular activities so that she can write more, something she loved doing as a kid.