By Zerline Hughes
Slowing down the growing up process is not an option, but making every effort to take it slow can be.
My son wears a size 13 shoe. He is only 12. With that said, he is already taller than me. And when he answers his phone, I always double back to see who I dialed because the voice on the other side is so deep and “manly.” It takes me by surprise every time. He’s growing up too fast.
My daughter was 10 yesterday. Today she is 11. Over the last year, however, because of her maturity, I’ve made the mistake of thinking she is 12 like her brother, but then I remember I don’t have twins.
She’s got that sassy attitude (ahem … just like yours truly). She always has a pithy quip and comeback to what anyone says (sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s maddening – most times she’s right). And she is taller and bigger than most of the 5th graders in her elementary class. She’s growing up too fast.
Where did my babies go? They’re getting too old, too fast.
But it’s not just me.
A Manhattan Institute commentary suggests that “The 12- to 14-year-olds of yesterday are the 10- to 12-‘s of today.”
Further, a CNN article entitled “Early puberty: Growing older sooner,” says kids are, in fact, growing up faster. And, of course, there’s always a race disparity: it’s our Brown and Black kids that are growing up faster.
The articles states: “In this country, African-American and Hispanic girls tend to reach puberty earlier than their [W]hite counterparts. There are varying explanations. Globally, patterns of early puberty appear to be influenced by everything from economic conditions to climate to genes.”
So, to slow down the maturation process as much as I humanly can, I made sure Christmas morning was as kid-like and age-appropriate as possible. The kids received actual toys that they could put together and play with. Don’t get me wrong: I did fall into the hype and purchase an Xbox and iTunes gift cards. But I also made sure to get Legos and doll clothes fashion design kits. You know, the fun stuff that reminds us of their free spirit.
It’s hard trying to be a kid these days. Playing with toy guns gets us shot at. Walking down the street gets them shot. Even just waiting at the bus stop in a “good” neighborhood after school, makes them a target according to a fellow parent and friend. To whit, my son often gets mistaken for a 16 or 17 year old. At a recent (and pretty awesome) superhero birthday party for a very special 3 year old, these two were invited to be some of the big kids that volunteered to set up and still be able to have fun by wearing capes, eating cupcakes. As my son helped set things up, an attendee assumed he was soon completing high school. Yikes!! NO! Slow down. Way down.
And then, if you recall, there’s the boy’s library experience where he was asked to leave the children’s section in the library because they assumed he was too old.
With these experiences, I’m reminded of the extremes of youths having to grow up too fast. When our kids get caught up in at-risk activities and are sent to juvenile detention centers, they are forced to mature (artificially) in order to defend themselves, blend in, and learn the ropes of independence. And this is happening earlier – by around age 15, according to the Manhattan Institute commentary. It’s horrible. And if they are lucky enough to be released and re-enter society, their youth has been tarnished. It’s gone. Their innocence is taken away and they are forced to (try to) think like an adult, though their minds are not yet suited for adult situations.
Without even discussing the hormones and extras in our foods that speed up puberty and growth, we are exposing our kids to so much. The phones we give them (I’m guilty), the games we allow them to play (guilty again) and the shows we allow them to watch (I think I’m gonna’ need some bail money here) are speeding up their brains before their time. But anything we can do to slow down and pace ourselves is needed.
Memberships at local Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Little League teams, attending fun family outings where there are sing alongs, and finding interactive kids activities are a great first step. Innocent sleep overs, play dates (hate that term) and some good, old-fashioned cutting and pasting with actual real-life scissors and glue works too.
So as January and February come and go and I celebrate the birthdays of these two, here’s to hoping for just a little more maturity and age-appropriate responsibility, while they maintain their youth and fun, kid-like spirit.
Happy 11th birthday J.T.!