Keeping kids kids

My 8 year old is an avid reader. I can’t afford to buy her books because she finishes them too fast. We check 5 books out of the library, she’ll have read 3 of them before she goes to bed that night.

The biggest problem that I am having is finding books that are more than 150 pages long, but that are still suitable for her 8 year old mind. She is still young and pretty innocent, and I’d like to keep her that way thankyouverymuch. I don’t want her reading books that are aimed at tweens and teens, because she does not need to read about dating and kissing, and the more complex issues of relationships that go along with that.

Over the weekend I tried to remember what books I enjoyed reading when I was her age. I was also a reader and I can remember my mother trying to find books for me to read when I’d finished all the “suitable” ones that we owned. One series of books that I recalled loving was the Saddler’s Wells series, written by Lorna Hill. I had the privilege or reading my mother’s copies of many of these books. Hardcover, with some illustrations, 1st edition most of them. The missing books from the series we picked up in paperback along the way. There were a total of 14 books in the Saddler’s Wells series, and I believe I read them all, possibly some of them more than once. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to track them down today, especially in the US. My mother’s 1st edition hardcovers are worth a small fortune if the rare book sellers online are anything to go by.  Another book I loved was “White Boots” by Noel Streatfield. It was also published under the name “Skating Shoes” and is available on Amazon. Streatfield wrote a host of other books too, some of which I think I also read.

It seems that, just as with everything else today, literature for youngsters is forcing them to grow up too fast. As a child reader I loved to get lost in the books I was reading. To almost imagine myself within the story, part of the lives of the characters, genuinely feeling what they were feeling, and hoping for the best outcome. The lives of the children in the books were not parallel to my life, they were totally different, but they were my age, going through similar emotional experiences to those that I was experiencing. I want my daughter to be able to get lost in the books she is reading, without being exposed to concepts that are currently beyond her reality. I want her to enjoy the lives of fictional characters without being confused by girl-boy relationships, at an age where she still thinks that kissing is “yucky” and boys smell. I’d like this stage to last quite a while longer.

Why is it so hard to keep our girls young? The clothes manufactured to dress them like mini-women. The makeup produced specifically for little girls. Entire salons devoted to manicures and beauty treatments for children. Why? Is it really necessary? There is an entire TV series devoted to toddler beauty queens! I admit I have never watched a single episode of this show, simply because the very concept of it makes me nauseated. Who are the parents that want to turn their babies into spectacles? What values are they teaching their children when they put false eyelashes on them? When they spray tan their young skin? Most children are beautiful just as they are. They are beautiful because they are pure, innocent.

Why must we take our children’s childhood away from them so fast? Isn’t it enough that they grow up so much faster than we did, simply because of the world we live in today? There are certain things that we cannot easily keep from our kids, stuff that perhaps our parents were successfully able to shelter us from when we were children. I don’t remember the TV news being so visual when I was a child. I don’t remember newspaper photos and articles being so graphic. There was no internet. There was limited television, and certainly in Ireland and the UK, there were limits to what was allowed to be shown on TV before 9pm when all children were expected to be in bed.

I am not looking to go backwards. I just want to be able to protect my kids from growing up too fast. I want them to enjoy being kids. My  husband & I encourage our children to play outside as much as possible. We are blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood, with a lot of families who have similar values. On any given Saturday and Sunday afternoon you can find most of the children in our neighborhood playing outside together, while a group of parents hangs out watching them. My husband and I also do not often allow electronic playdates at our house. If one of the kids has a friend over, we discourage the use of the computer, the Wii, watching TV etc. If it is an exceptionally dreary, wet day, we might be more permissive. But in general, if there is a playdate at our house, we encourage interactive playing. Imaginary play is something that is going out of fashion, and yet it is such an important developmental milestone for young kids.

I will continue to search for the Saddler’s Wells series for my daughter. At the very worst I will bring my mother’s hardcover copies back with me from Ireland in August when I visit. And I will try and recall what other books enveloped me at that age. We do what we can to help our children grow. I simply don’t want them to grow up too fast!

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