Sunday, August 20, 2006

Maturity and pseudo-maturity

Someone wrote on a message board about an acquaintance who was banning her newly-5yo from watching "little-kid TV" or playing "little-kid computer games." I think that this parent's approach is indicative of a serious misunderstanding of what maturity is. She wants her daughter to grow and mature, but she's using assumptions about maturity that are very shallow, and is in fact getting the whole thing backwards.

Maturity is about knowing deep down inside who you are and what you stand for, and acting according to those values. Pseudo-maturity is trying to act like people who are older than you. Pseudo-maturity, because it's play-acting one's values and interests, actually interferes with the development of real maturity. If you are trying really hard to act like you're interested in A, B and C, how can you possibly figure out what your real affinities are?

I think that there are many pressures in our culture trying to turn children into adolescents long before their childhoods should be over, and then work to keep them that way long past the time when they should be fledged as adults. Two hundred years ago a thirteen-year-old girl was likely to still play with dolls, and a sixteen-year-old girl might very well be getting married and starting a family of her own. A thirteen-year-old boy might be playing with sticks and balls, while a fifteen-year-old might be going off to war or apprenticing as a cartwright. While I think full fledging into adulthood was often too soon and too brutal in those days, I do think it's important to note that adolescence, or "not-quite-adulthood", was a brief transition from childhood to adulthood, not a way of life.

Nowadays adolescence is a cultural identity of at least 10 (or maybe even more than 20) years of taking your values from the peer group and mass media, of acting as grown up as you can, but without taking any real responsibility, of pushing limits while still wanting to be bailed out if real mistakes are made. Ten to twenty years when you are neither a child nor a parent, neither an adult nor a kid, when "family" does not form the core of your universe. An entire generation of people, from age 8 to 30, are in a state of suspended personal development, trying to "find themselves" and work out who they are and what they ought to be doing with their lives while socially disconnected from their families and those they ought to be taking their values from.

I think it's done some terrible things to western culture, as it's created a massive demographic of people who are concerned primarily with themselves without reference to their inter-relation with family and society. People like the parent described above are out at the leading edge of this phenomenon, not just swept up in it with a sense of vague unease, but helping actively promote it in the lives of their own children. What a shame.

I've always said, half-jokingly, that "we aren't doing adolescence in our family." I've tried to help keep my children children, to help them develop real maturity in a strong sense of self and values before they run the risk of getting swept up by peer culture and losing their bearings. I half-feared that I would have to eat my words, but so far so good. Erin is still interested in playing with Playmobil and being home with her younger siblings, while at the same time she is gradually learning to take on adult-type roles and responsibilities. What she is not doing is pretending to be more grown up than she is by adopting the trappings and outward behaviours of an older group. Hurrah!


  1. I agree with you on the whole. I feel children grow up way to fast. I'm glad my dd (12 yrs) is still a little girl. She is maturing in her responsibilities and relationships with others without trying to prove herself to her peers.(She is also homeschooled)

    However, I do agree with not watching the kiddie TV shows. Perhaps not for the same reason as the mother you are speaking of, but I have strong opinions as to why. I teach my children to be selective about what they put into their minds as well as what they do with their time. I could go on but This would become way too long. ~ Kelly

  2. Anonymous3:38 pm

    One of my friends recently told me of some "brain" study which found that people are now adolescents until age 25. Personally, I think it's because they are kept in school longer. It's a lot harder to "find yourself" when you are told your life won't start until you graduate.
    We recently watched "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" where Toula, age 30, is kind of going through that finding herself/adolescent phase herself. In some of those scenes where she is trying to transform her life, I was thinking, gosh, I can't imagine going through that at 30! I'm 28, and that whole finding myself thing seems like it was so long ago. I am almost afraid that by the time any children I have grow up, our society will declare adolescence until 40! Do I really want to do that to them? Oy!

  3. Hi Danielle, that's interesting about that study. I'd put a little different spin on it myself. I'd say that it indicates that there is ongoing maturation of the brain well into adulthood, and that this means "we're never done learning and growing." That ongoing change isn't an excuse to not be an adult, it just means that even adults change. Cheers! Miranda

  4. Anonymous5:46 am

    Thanks for that. I never thought of it that way. I love your interpretation, as long as I can still be an adult.


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