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PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

What's the rush? We shouldn't fast-forward through childhood

By Corey D Clawson

September 22, 2006 | Laughter charges with the anxiety of another closing school day as the children glance at the clock. Youthful imagination -- watercolors entitled "My Thanksgiving Vacation" and "How do I feel today?" -- wallpapers an otherwise bland fifth-grade classroom. The classroom provides children with experiences preparing them for the world. However, too often children are encouraged to forget this idyllic time and grow up too fast.

Returning for one moment to that classroom, we find another exhibit -- one of firefighters dousing flames, sopranos singing to sold-out audiences, sports stars making impossible plays and even astronauts battling space creatures -- entitled, "When I grow up..." One creation sticks out, however: a simple man doodling something at his desk and an explanation at the bottom: Editorial Cartoonist. I drew that one.

Fascinated by the world around me and encouraged by my parents, I read daily the editorials page inspiring me to produce a series of 20 well-received cartoons entitled Clinton Babies -- a cross between the Clinton Administration and Muppet Babies.

Reflecting on this growing trend of kids growing up faster and faster as well as this and other experiences, I asked, "Did I grow up too fast?" Yes. A bit. This experience illustrates the beginning of growing trend. Today, most kids have four or more different activities during the week. As a piano teacher, it has become difficult for my mother to meet the scheduling needs of many families.

"Can we schedule Nathan's lesson for Tuesdays after school?"

"No, he has scouts."

"How about Saturdays at two."

"Nope, book club."

"What about Thursday or Friday nights?"


One family with an 8 and a 10-year-old could only have piano lessons at 7:00 in the morning because of school, swim practice, jogging, among other endeavors.

Activities, both planned and unplanned, provide children a foundation for their future. However, often parents and even society itself loses sight of this by monopolizing children's time and forgetting the spontaneity and imagination of childhood.

In junior high "Future Planning" meetings, teachers and parents helped map our futures as students. When my turn came, I was excited with the possibilities and the greater freedom to choose classes for my sophomore year. However, it turned out much differently than expected. Upon entering the cold, sterile classroom full of stone-topped tables my excitement was sapped. Sitting at the other side of the table, a just-out-of-college biology teacher sat trembling slightly, his sweaty palmprints left the table as he stood up to greet us. I had never met the man, nor have I spoken to him since. Hesitantly, he explained the process as if reading from the forms he was about to hand me. "This is a list of classes offered and here is your Future Planning sheet. You have five minutes to fill it out. It has instructions and diagrams to help you make some very important decisions -- decisions that will affect the REST OF YOUR LIFE."

Those words stuck out. In five minutes, I was supposed to plan my entire future? I quickly skimmed the sheet. Included were questions about future careers and a diagram to map out every class that I would take until I was to graduate from high school. At the bottom were references to college websites and such.

We asked a few important questions about these classes and what lied ahead; however, the panicky teacher merely shuffled his free papers as my father privately shot me a look. "That was a waste of time." I smirked quietly in agreement.

"Almost done?" the teacher chimed in.

Passing the next student and his mother, my father sighed and looked to the mother, saying silently and sarcastically, "Have fun."

Kids these days should not be expected to make huge choices or be so responsible. Certain needs just aren't met with jam-packed schedules and hastily made decisions. We can only expect them to be what they truly are: kids.



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