Growing Up Too Fast

Can it ever be good to tell your children something that isn't true? How about telling them that when it's raining God is watering his garden with a giant watering can? Or that there's a man in the moon? Many educators today recommend giving children only scientifically correct information about the world. But in their excellent new book, Saving Childhood, clinical psychologist Diane Medved and her husband Michael, film critic and talk show host, say there's nothing wrong with raising kids with a bit of whimsy and fantasy. In fact, having a sense of wonder and imagination is crucial to becoming a mature adult, both emotionally and spiritually. Contemporary society, the Medveds write, forces kids to grow up too fast. Through television they learn about this adult world long before they are able to understand it. Through well-intentioned programs, they learn about the dangers of drug use and child abuse and unprotected sex, long before they can make use of such serious information. We even over schedule their time, so they have no time left to read a book or play imaginary games.
The result is a loss of wonder, a stifled imagination. And children suffer not only emotionally but spiritually as well. Children with over-regimented lives are "spiritually starved," warns Professor Mitchell Kalpakgian in The New Oxford Review. "A true childhood," he goes on, is one that "provides leisure and light-mindedness—an atmosphere of play that stimulates the creative imagination and nourishes the inner life of the mind and soul." There's a crucial link, you see, between developing a child's sense of wonder and a later ability to have a relationship with God. "Children not yet jaded by the cruelties of life are one step closer to unimpeded spirituality," the Medveds write. "It's on that spirituality that we should allow them to dwell, not on man's foibles and flaws. Let them revel in the privilege of being alive; let them discover the joy in being human." What this means is that we need to think of ways to protect our children from growing up too fast. We can start by not letting them be burdened by complex adult problems. Turn off the TV and tell them there are some things that are only appropriate for adults to know. "In order for youngsters to enjoy a sense of wonder," the Medveds write, "adults must be actively willing to keep certain difficult and complex areas of concern from their children, to allow a process of discovery lighted by amazement." On the positive side, you should make time in your busy schedule to read aloud to your kids and foster in them a lively sense of imagination and awe. Get them playing in ways that involve the imagination. Keep some old clothes around for dress-up games, set out a box of markers for doodling and drawing, stock up on Play-Doh and wooden blocks. And if your kids talk about the man in the moon, or tell you that rain comes from God's giant watering can, keep in mind that these fantasies are not only harmless, they can actually be good for them. They stimulate their imagination and help them retain a sense of wonder, and that one-day may lay the structure for a strong spiritual life.


Chuck Colson


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