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A lost childhood? Making sense of ‘mini-adulthood’

June 17, 2012

Photo courtesy: John Morgan

Writer: Meera Vijayann

I may be wrong, but something about the new show ‘Junior Masterchef Australia’, which features children between the ages of 8 to 12 contesting against each other to show off their culinary skills, bothers me. I remember watching the first episode, and going ‘wow’. Thinking about it later, I felt these children looked so groomed and trained that they pretty much came across like ‘mini adults’. Don’t get me wrong. No doubt, these kids have exceptional talent, well beyond their years to be honest. But the very idea of children, being in such a hurry to grow up and ‘be a part of the adult world’ is worrying. Whatever happened to childhood as we know it?

Dr. Richard House, an academic from the Roehampton University Research Centre for Therapeutic Education believes that ‘[We are] robbing children more and more of their right to a childhood relatively free of adult anxieties, preoccupations, and intrusions’. A few other people beg to differ, saying that early exposure to the internet and technology has changed how childhood is perceived. So there is a need to prepare them for adulthood in their early years.

Certainly, there are various child-oriented shows, which are informative, educative, insightful and fun – just the way they are meant to be. A few that come to mind are Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine, Clifford the Red Dog and The Magic School Bus. There are several for an older age group, of course.

What annoys me is that there are several shows that are plain obnoxious; a classic example of this would be the American show, Toddlers and Tiaras, where toddlers are dolled up with make up, waxed, sexualised and then made to strut around while the judges scored them – What on Earth is wrong with these people? A few mothers on the show even push their children to undergo professional fake-tanning, wear fake teeth  and surgically enhancing natural appearance. Last year, a Toddlers and Tiara’s 3-year old child star named Paisley went on stage wearing a short, tight, blue and white dress in an attempt to emulate Julia Roberts in her blockbuster hit, Pretty Woman, a film where Roberts plays a prostitute.

What’s bothers me about this trend of television is the fact that as a people, we have begun to influence children in a largely negative way by our own actions, decisions and choices. In the future, wouldn’t this determine their behaviour and shape their attitudes as well. A worried reader commented on the photo of Paisley asking the question – How different is this from child abuse?

Perhaps, the concept of a childhood, over the years, has changed. It is no longer about listening to bedtime stories, cycling down the neighbourhood, enjoying the outdoors or having that innocent curiosity about the world we live in. It’s about being part of a race; dancing, swimming, singing, music, cooking, yoga, extra homework, extra effort and simply being ‘extra-ordinary’. What will these children remember of childhood when they look back on their early years? I wonder.

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