I Mean No Disrespect

Featured Image: Adrian McDonald

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“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”

–Whitney Houston

When you grow up being told that you should appreciate your young life, and that you have the time to live like you’re seven years old for as long as you wish, you begin to believe it. But when you grow up, and your mother starts to condition you for getting into Ivy League schools and leaves almost every household responsibility for the newly adolescent, you start to feel like you’ve suddenly put on a blazer that’s way too tight, and gotten hired for your first (but likely not last) crummy unpaid internship that you didn’t sign up for. Truthfully, you’ve just grown up without even realizing that you did, because while all of this occurs, you’re in middle school and dealing with crushes, acne, friendship drama, reading the news more frequently, and only just starting to realize the nuances of the world around you that have always been there.

I’ve only ever lived with my mother, and was raised by my grandmother as a baby. My mother worked at one of the top law firms in New York City to pay off bills from her undergraduate degree and law school, while simultaneously working on passing the New York Bar exam to officially become a lawyer. So, yes, growing up was a total blast. Nonetheless, the more time I spent here, and the older I got, the more time she spent at work and less with family, with me. As time moved on, we seemed to grow apart while still living under the same roof. I had only ever heard this described in my mom’s Lifetime Movie Network films about newly divorced couples trying to figure out the changes. But apparently, those changes are what adults go through. At some point between taking tae kwon do and competing in spelling bees, to taking part in highly competitive magnet programs where I was typically one of two or three black kids in the room, I had become an adult.

I’ve always wondered what that feeling is like for others. To know when you’ve become an adult, or at least have recognized that your maturity levels are higher than that of others in your age group. There are many quotes that I could cite, most found on Pinterest, but in general, I think that childhood is a beautiful thing. Yet, the innocence, the playfulness, the simple existence of childhood gets erased by the desire to “grow up.” We’ve seen it in nearly every movie made where children are the stars and they wish to be treated like grown-ups, so they become them — and regret it within the next 24 hours (I’m talking “Thirty, flirty, and thriving” from 13 Going on 30, or Lindsay Lohan’s rebellious character in Freaky Friday). For some reason, the younger you are, the more you want to be older; the older you are, the more you miss being younger and regret all the time you spent trying to act like a grown-up. Now it seems absolutely insane for me to say this, seeing as I haven’t even started college yet — and with this indefinite quarantine period, I have no clue what will happen next — and I’m still living at home with my mother, but it is the truth. Growing up too fast should never be what people wish for.

Back to those aforementioned Pinterest posts, I found this one that really resonated with me about how when kids are asking their parents and/or adults in their lives to treat them “like an adult”, what they really want is to be respected, because they see adults demanding respect from each other and from those younger than them. Respect is the utmost form of social capital; it defines whether or not you’re worth it to the people in your life, depending on whether or not they respect you. To little kids, this respect is better than candy, staying up past your bedtime, getting presents, and new episodes of your favorite shows, but combined. This respect means that you are a human being in other people’s eyes, and not simply something to be molded, moved around and shaped by whomever has the will and wish to do so. This respect means making your own choices for yourself simply because you want to and getting to make certain foods for yourself simply because you want it.

This respect, however, seems to be a connection between other adults, as if to say, “Hey. I recognize you’ve been through a lot in more than one decade, and that must suck. And don’t I know it. I acknowledge that we’ve both been through hell in one way or another. It’s a shame that these younger kids will go through some of the same things.” And while some adults use this thinking to be proactive and allow kids to simultaneously learn the truth about adulthood while still maintaining some childhood innocence, others choose to thrust it upon you and treat it as a “learning experience” or as “preparation.” I still don’t know which method is best, seeing as I’ve only really been exposed to one, but I suppose that we shall see.

This is in no means some form of a revolutionary statement, just merely a viewpoint that is often silenced by being told “you’re talking back,” or “you don’t understand how hard I work for you/how much I love you/etc.” instead of reading some long-winded rant by a sleep-deprived anxious teenager. Furthermore, this is not to say that adults are the problem, kids should take over everything and just put adults underground in case of emergency or something along those lines — although, with the way in which many governments around the world have been behaving in the past decade-ish, it would certainly be an interesting take (I volunteer Emma González and Naomi Wadler if they’re interested).

The fact of the matter is, kids should not be wishing their lives away in order to be treated the way that every human being should be on a daily basis. It is undeniable that children are still growing and developing, still don’t know the world like older generations do, and that therefore older generations need to take care of the younger in order to ensure the survival of the human race. But couldn’t this be arguably true for all people, regardless of age? The importance of taking care of each other is increasingly relevant with every news story released, and as the world becomes a more frightening place, we need to do everything we can to make sure that young people like myself, and those younger than me, are allowed the freedom to possibly help save this world.

I mean no disrespect, but isn’t it time that adults scoot over and let the children be truly heard for all that they are worth? The children are, always have been, and always will be, the future of our world. Let us make it possible for this bright future, for these bright children, to have a standing chance.