Grow up! 5 Ways We’re Treating Our Children Like Adults

Growing up too soon?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silvermen

I’m sensing a very frustrating trend here. Children just can’t seem to be children much anymore. We tell them that we don’t want them to grow up too soon and yet, we’re treating them like little adults! I mean, are we serious? Why not just give them a briefcase and send them off to work too?

Let me take you on a short, but disturbing trip…

Inside, like adults: Remember when our parents would tell us to go outside and play?  As you probably remember, a recent study found that children were being banned from the playground and made to stay inside during the school day due to wearing the wrong shoes, too much messy mulch near the playground, no coat, or talkative or texting teachers who can’t be bothered to supervise. Children need outside play for physical, social, and cognitive development as well as to get in touch with nature (which is vital to help them have a sensitivity and connection to mother earth). So much for imagination…sometimes children just need to get away from plastic, electronics and rubber, don’t you think?

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” says Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning

Gym-goers, like adults: On that same topic, the Washington Post just covered a story yesterday that shows that children are now hitting the gym instead of playing outside. Come on. Hitting the gym? What happened to monkey bars, swimming, martial arts and hopscotch? Can you imagine how bored they’ll be by the time they have to make “going to the gym” a habit as an adults? Yawn Yawn. Think it’s not happening all that much? According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, last year, 1.3 million children between the ages of 6 to 11 were members of a health club. Sad.  Just sad.

“It may sound like a grown up routine, but many parents are enrolling their children in fitness centers or buying child-sized equipment for a workout more grueling than ballet or Little League but cheaper than hiring a personal trainer.”

Medicated, like adults: Many of us have been very upset by the news featured in my article “Tots Popping Pills”  that the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommended the adult drug “statins” to “at-risk” children as young as 8 years old in order to lower high cholesterol levels. Besides the fact that this option provides another push-button solution in a fast-paced, sedentary world, there are no long term studies done on the effects of these drugs on children. These children could be on these drugs for the rest of their life…should they be?

“Children’s bodies are very different in how they metabolize or handle drugs…Their livers are different, their kidneys are different. In many cases it’s about the same if they’re taking Tylenol or asthma medication. But for other drugs like statins that might have some impact on their endocrine system, we just really don’t know. I, for one, feel unsafe simply saying children are little adults in this case.” Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine

Waxed, plucked, and primped, like adults: Many Mommies bond with their daughters over a little sparkly pink nail polish. We’re now dealing with a whole new ball of wax…literally. Among some of the most disturbing “grow-up” tactics, is the waxing, plucking, and primping of little girls. The New York Post told us just a month ago that “the newest trend in pre-tween preening is a wax job, with girls as young as 6 years old removing whatever hair they have – or don’t have – from their legs and armpits.’ Squirming in your chairs? Yes, me too.

“In 10 years,” predicts Stawczyk, “waxing children will be like taking them to the dentist or putting braces on their teeth.”

Fed, like adults: Who do these restaurant chains think they’re kidding? They call them “kids meals” but are serving enough for a full grown man. We talked recently about how Fast Food Flops for Tots and the recent study which shows 90% of children’s “kid’s meals” at 13 major fast-food and restaurant chains are too high in calories for kids. We know that fast food can be a lifesaver– especially for families who have a lot of kids— but what are we feeding them? Men’s Health put out a surprisingly good article this month (my husband gets the magazine and showed it to me), written by it’s editor and author of Eat This Not That, about what kids are really being served at their favorite restaurant chains. Just as an example, according to the article, while an active 8 year old boy should eat about 1,600 calories per day, a single kid’s meal of “Chili’s Pepper Pals Country Fried Chicken Crispers with Ranch Dressing and Homestyle Fries” will pack over 70% of his daily calories into one, seemingly innocent kid’s meal (1,110 calories, 82 grams of fat- 15 grams saturated, 56 grams of carbs, and HolyMoly 1,980 mg of sodium). Yum yum.

“An Oscar Mayar Lunchable can have more sugar than four peanut butter cups.

SO…is it really better to be “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son?”

Please weigh in. I’m going to go bang my head against the wall.

Note: This article featured on radio show, Bigg Success 10/10/08 here


15 Responses

  1. This *is* disturbing. Children are no longer needed in families for help on the farm, or to help with anything really. They’re accessories (which I’ve opined a little about on my blog) and we’re treating them as such.

    I’m not the best about making my kids get out and play. I need to get better about that. I need to be better with that myself!

  2. The “not going outside to play” thing seems to be happening more and more– perhaps due to fear and the hyped up information provided on the news. I don’t know though– can you imagine if you’ve been going to the gym from the time you were in kindergarten?

    Yes, have fun! Go out and run! Play with a few bugs! Throw a Frisbee!

    Thanks for the comment, Vicki. Always great to see you here.

    Dr. Robyn

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  4. My two young boys, 7 and 3, LOVE the outdoors! For the longest time I was terrified of dirt, germs, and anything else that wasn’t sanitized. That all changed with our latest military move from a large city environment to a more country like setting.

    They now play in dirt and mud *gasp*, go fishing and grab live fish *double gasp*, and catch interesting bugs and spiders in jars. Yes, they smell when we get home, yes they get dirty and scraped but they love it, AND it’s healthy for them. I can’t imagine what would happen if I trapped them indoors and didn’t let them experience unstructured play. What a depressing thought.

  5. I loved the outdoors as well, Mrs. X– my best friend and I would ride our bikes, go for walks, roll around– whatever– but we were typically outside most of the time whether it was sunny or snowing– actually, especially when it was snowing! My brothers, too, would go looking for turtles, play ball with the neighborhood boys, and explore in the woods. They were all good times!

    I agree with you that it’s depressing to think of kids being holed up inside all the time. I believe it’s healthy to play outside– explore– and have fun! A few bruises and scrapes are no big deal. I would hate for children to get “used to” being inside all the time. What about fresh air?

    Thank you for the great comment– I wholeheartedly agree and commend you on going against the grain.

    Come back soon-

    Dr. Robyn

  6. This is a FANTASTIC post! I liked to you from Best Post of the Week.

    You are so right on in these points!

    We are striving to let our kids be kids and to let them have an unhurried childhood! We’ve refused thus far to enroll them in every available activity and have preferred unstructured free play outdoors, arts and crafts, and toys like building blocks.

    This post was a great encouragement!

  7. Hello Daja-

    Thanks for coming by. I’m thrilled to hear that you are making sure that your children are participating in unstructured play.

    Whether structured or unstructured– we’ve got to let kids be kids! Let them play outside! Climb rocks (something I loved to do with my best friend, Randi, when I was little!)! But also– let them take gymnastics! Martial arts! Swim! As we get older, there is much less time for people to do these things– not to mention, we’re often not as flexible– so the time is now for kids to be able to do things that are fun– and non-adult!

    Come by again!

    Dr. Robyn

  8. At first I thought this was going to be one of those posts where I’m made to feel guilty for giving my kids chores to do and for teaching them to act responsibly with their things, their interactions with others, and their conduct. Phew! I’m in 100% agreement with what you’re saying. Parents are pushing their children to be little adults, but at the expense of moral accountability and a proper perspective of priorities. My husband and I have always insisted our children live lives of integrity whether they’re “hanging out” , biking to the park or completing schoolwork. But their innocence is something we try to protect!

  9. Interesting information! These are all things I knew, but didn’t really think about often. As a middle school teacher, we see children babied by parents. Kids who can’t pick out their own clothes, study for a quiz on their own, or speak to adults clearly.
    I agree about the adult-sized meals, ridiculous, and waxing, come on! My niece is quite content with home mani-pedis with Mom and Auntie!

  10. […] recently read a great post by Dr. Robyn Silvermen about treating kids like little adults. She offers a lot of great links to research and other articles about this increasing […]

  11. […] Powerful Parenting blog post article; Grow up!  How were Treating Our Children Like Little Adults, was featured today on the internet radio show Bigg Success.  Click here to […]

  12. Of course you don’t treat children as adults. But, at the same time you do want them to grow up. You want them to want to be adults.

    I get annoyed at church where the kids are taken away in the middle of the service. Either they should be there or not. Kids need to see their parents being adults and, gee, what place is better than church? Or, maybe I should say, it should be the best place.

    I have thought about this issue more than most. We created a free web service called for parents of pre-teens and teenagers to help teach cooperation, responsibility & commitment.

    Here’s the link:
    Here’s our YouTube video:

    We selected the name WuduPlz carefully. Teenagers should not feel victimized or punished, says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “You want them to understand that the freedoms they get are directly related to how they demonstrate responsibility.” WuduPlz is designed to help parents teach this lesson. That’s not treating them as adults.

    (It’s popular because it’s easier and faster texting if you’re at your computer. And, to make it more useful, WuduPlz can also deliver messages LATER to provide useful reminders. In other words, each family member with a cellphone is carrying around a little alarm clock that Mom or Dad can set to go off with a little note. Very handy.)

  13. I agree. Let’s let the kids be kids. I quoted your following paragraph on my blog,

    “I’m sensing a very frustrating trend here. Children just can’t seem to be children much anymore. We tell them that we don’t want them to grow up too soon and yet, we’re treating them like little adults! I mean, are we serious? Why not just give them a briefcase and send them off to work too?”

    I hope that is alright with you.

  14. […] Dr. Robyn JA Silverman says, “I’m sensing a very frustrating trend here. Children just can’t seem to be children much anymore. We tell them that we don’t want them to grow up too soon and yet, we’re treating them like little adults! I mean, are we serious? Why not just give them a briefcase and send them off to work too?” […]

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