The other day my friend came over and somehow we came upon the discussion of Christmas.
“We still do Santa,” she said as my nine-year-old daughter leaned in to listen. Luckily, it was no harm, no foul as my daughter who still believes in fairy tales didn’t understand what my friend was talking about.
We live in a world of glossed over provocativeness–in our clothes, our entertainment and in our lives. Even when it comes to nine-year-old girls, some of them know and have seen too much. I am in no hurry to let my kids grow up.
Gone are the days that I experienced in the 1980s of climbing trees and pretending to be whatever I wanted. Dolls and Hotwheels have been replaced with Kindles and Ipads. Candy Crush has replaced Candy Land.
Children are constantly bombarded in their surroundings to grow up and to do it quickly. There are so many violent and sexual images online and on TV– our children are exposed constantly.
Sometimes it’s by accident. Another friend has an eight-year-old son who likes to look at cartoons on YouTube. Somehow, he stumbled upon a hacked video of what looked like a regular cartoon but was edited with a clip in the middle showing a gory image of a bloody cat. This poor little boy had nightmares for months.
No, I am not in a hurry to let my kids grow up. Studies show that hurried childhoods cause a great deal of stress and can lead to serious stress-related ailments. Pressuring children to be “little adults” can also lead to low self-esteem and depression.
The reason children should not be rushed into growing up is because they need those years to play to teach them to how to deal with anger, fear, and stress. Also using their imagination and engaging with others teaches them self-control and cooperation. However, when children grow up too quickly with all work and no play, they can lack those coping skills.
Sometimes the pressure to grow up comes from our needs as parents wanting our children to be successful. I have been guilty of these unreal expectations myself. The other day, my six-year-old son got so stressed out at his swim lesson about swimming in the deep end. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. However, I wanted him to succeed so badly that I tried without fail to bribe him repeatedly. Finally, I realized that no one is going to care in 20 years whether my son can swim over by the eight feet deep mark on the pool. He can swim and that’s good enough. Realizing it was more for me–than him is where I was going wrong. Letting this expectation go, relieved my son immensely.
I know I can’t freeze time and keep my kids little forever. I don’t want to do that. I also know that I can’t keep them in a little glass bubble because they’re going to get outside influences from their friends and the media. However, I am not ever going to tell my daughter that it’s time she gives up her dolls or that she is “too big” to do something she still thinks is fun.
Pressure to grow up is always going to come from outside sources. I remember being lectured from our childcare provider that my daughter was too old at 18 months to have a pacifier and blankie. I refused to cave in and eventually my retort of “Don’t worry about it, she won’t have it when she graduates high school,” came true–at least for the pacifier.
I know that someday my daughter’s dolls will retire. I also know that my son is dangerously close to thinking that Thomas the Train is for babies. That’s okay. I have accepted that fact. However, they can retire them on their own terms.
I want to let my kids be kids for as long as I can. Limiting their media exposure and encouraging imagination and play reduces stress. Children have enough stress in their lives in this fast-paced world full of technology and violence. While I can, I’ll just leave them with their Legos and fairy tales. I’ll leave the PG13 and R rated movies for my husband and me. I’ll also let my son decide when he swims to the eight feet mark.
Yes, my nine-year-old daughter still believes in Santa. Her friends still believe in him too. I know that there will come a time probably soon where she will figure it out on her own–but that’s okay because it will be on her timetable, not mine.

Erica Sutherland

E. Sutherland resides in California with her husband and two children. Along with working full-time and being a mom (which is her favorite job!) she also writes in her spare time. Every essay is inspired by her children.