If it’s having a job, then those 15-year-olds who ask if you want fries with that have already reached maturity. I think the main dividing line is knowledge. Childhood is a protected state where they can learn new things slowly, once they’re mature enough to handle them
That’s why I think a child has the right not to know some things. I think they have a right not to know about the horror of war, except in general terms, until they enter the teenage years. I think they have a right not to know about sexuality inside and out. I think they have a right to be told only in vague terms about their parents’ neuroses, marriages or love lives. Once you open that door into the adult world, you see, children have a difficult time just being children. Something has been taken from them.
I’m not sure all adults understand this. I remember talking with a friend a few years ago who let his three-year-old son watch X-Files with him (largely because he couldn’t be bothered to put the child to bed). “Oh, he doesn’t care,” my friend said. “He thinks it’s funny.” And to prove his point, he nudged the child to laugh. That same child had frequent nightmares. Very young children don’t have the ability to distinguish real life from acting, and they can be shaken by many things, even those we don’t think are that bad.
But even if you try to keep the door closed on the adult media world, someone else can push it open. Take the mall, for instance. I was recently walking through it with my daughters when we passed the lingerie store. My seven-year-old said to me, “Mommy! Aren’t those women embarrassed to be seen in their underwear? I mean, what man is going to want to see that?” I paused for a minute, unsure how to answer, but very grateful my daughter was still completely oblivious to the attraction of said picture. Yet I still wish the picture wasn’t there at all. Come to think of it, I could do without Cosmopolitan, and the National Enquirer, and Britney Spears all being at my kids’ eye level in the checkout line. We no longer have child-friendly zones.
We don’t have them on television, where Super Bowls experience wardrobe malfunctions. We don’t have them in music, where today’s lyrics leave little to the imagination, and the singers’ wardrobes leave even less. We don’t even have it on public streets, where billboards and store windows use sex as a lure. We also don’t have it on the news, where same-sex marriage is debated when many of our kids don’t even know what homosexuality is. While this is certainly too much information for little ones, it also damages those on the verge of adulthood. Before they even experience physical intimacy, they know all about it, because it’s been laid bare before them on television, the Internet, and in schools.
This deprives them of the final triumph of growing up: that joyful discovery which finally unlocks adult secrets. By the time today’s young adults finally experience physical intimacy in a committed relationship, they have already had sex so dissected and analyzed and explained that it’s lost much of its wonder. There are no more secrets. It’s not something spiritually intimate that two people enjoy alone, with the rest of the world blocked out; the rest of the world has already burst in. And that’s too bad. We’ve taken their innocence from them, and now they know too much. Maybe that’s a sign that we adults know too little.