My older daughter turns 11 in a little more than a month. We are firmly ensconced in the "tween" years.
As we drove to soccer on Monday, my daughter informed me that two kids in her class are "dating." I asked her what she thought of that. She replied that she didn't "get it."
"We've got plenty of time for that stuff later. I just want to be a kid and play in the mud. In a couple of years, I won't be able to do that."
Where or where did my child gain such wisdom? And why does it seem like the rest of the world has forgotten it?
We live in a world where our kids are expected to grow up in a hurry. Our world pretends to value childhood, but then pushes our kids to act like teenagers before they're ready. We expect our kids to choose a lifelong sport or activity by the time they're 4. Stores offer clothing that encourages our kids to look like mini adults. We overschedule our kids from the time they are in preschool, leaving them with little time for creative play.
And, many times, we are complicit in expecting our kids to begin looking at the opposite sex in a sexual way. Oh, we don't mean to do it, but every time we make a comment about a kindergarten child's "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," we encourage our kids not to see the opposite gender as a friend, but as a sexual object. This is how we end up with kids "dating" at 11.
My younger daughter has lots of boys who are friends. She probably spends more time with boys than she does with girls. I can't count how many times someone has commented to me about my daughter's "boyfriends." And I always think, "Don't do that to them. Let them just be friends. Don't take the innocence of childhood and turn it into something adult."
As parents, we need to be careful how we talk about our children's friends of the opposite gender. We need to help our kids hang onto the innocence of childhood for as long as possible. No matter how hard we try, the world is going to force them to grow up faster than they need to. As parents, we need to encourage them to "play in the mud" for as long as they want to.
To do that, we need to take a long, hard look at our own actions and words toward our kids. Children are a heritage and reward from God (Psalm 127:3), and we need to treat them as such. We need to make a conscious effort to not sexualize our kids friendships. We need to be a good judge of what we let them wear. We need to be aware of what TV shows our kids are watching, what movies they are seeing and what books they are reading.
Childhood is precious, and innocence is priceless. Let your kids be little. Let them play in the mud, splash in the puddles and sing in the rain for as long as they can. Because the world will force them to grow up soon enough.