Children are not small adults

Today, Peggy Orenstein has a great quote on her blog from Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect, that eloquently reminds us: children are not small adults.

Children come to life innocent, unaware of the harsh aspects of pain and suffering and how cruel people can be. Part of the job of parenting is to protect them from that harsh truth long enough for them to develop a sense of goodness and core values of optimism, trust, internal curiosity, and a hunger for learning. If they see too much too soon–before they’re neurologically and emotionally ready to process it–it can short-circuit that natural curiosity. Boys and girls alike are easily traumatized by premature exposure to the media-based adult culture that cultivates cynicism and cynical values, treats sex and violence as entertainment, routinely sexualizes perceptions of girls and women, and encourages aggression in boys.


This reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time by Stephen Mitchell:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.


I wish media and toys created “for children” didn’t make it so hard for parents to protect their imaginations.

3 thoughts on “Children are not small adults

  1. I’m not sure I buy the children are innocent and need to be sheltered and kept in a bubble thing. But I do think that parents can play an important role in guiding the development of their children intellectually and emotionally and it’s important to monitor what they’re absorbing and the messages (intentional and unintentional) that they are receiving. All parents screw things up a little but there’s a wide spectrum and it’s worth it to try.

    • I think of it less like a bubble and more “kids have a right to be kids.” Not forever, of course, but for as long as necessary/they are able in their respective lives. I think kids are exposed to the aforementioned media-based adult culture too early, which facilitates “growing up too soon” without having a true understanding of what “growing up” really means.

      And I completely agree, parents do a lot of screwing up. But at least when you’re making those mistakes, you’re trying. Not everyone can claim that. 🙂 There’s a lot to be forgiven there.

Leave a Reply