Is Childhood Innocence a Lie?

It’s assumed in our culture: children are innocent and pure.  You see it in every advertisement for Oreos, every moral debate about media corrupting youth, Red Cross fundraisers, family movies where the adult learns a lesson about being a good parent… it’s in the creed of our society.

But really now.  Don’t you remember back to when you were a kid?  I can’t even begin to tell you how many assholes I remember from the playground (many of whom grew up to be likable and decent human beings, by the way).  No, when I look back on my own childhood, I see swing sets upon swing sets of inconsiderate twerps, and I include myself in that.  I remember once in elementary school: one of my friends threw a rock at another friend’s head.  Why?  I don’t know.  The pure exhilarating joy of it?  Back then, causing head trauma was all the rage, I suppose.

Kids do things to each other that most adults wouldn’t even dream of (actually, this is a lie – adults would frequently dream of doing these things).  The only reason the evildoings of adults seem worse than the evildoings of children is because, as adults, we’re physically capable of doing more damage.  Imagine if all the children in the world were as strong and capable as adults.  The destruction would be unfathomable!  Society would cease to exist!

Childhood Chaos v. Adulthood Civility: a comparison

Kids Adults
– throw rocks at people for fun – throw rocks at people in protest
– name call for fun – name call for political gain
– hit people for fun – hit people to take their wallets
– cry when hurt – cry when watching Toy Story 3, Jurassic Bark
– throw tantrums to get new toy – throw tantrums to get husband to do dishes, housework, remember anniversary
– knock merchandise off shelves – knock chairs over in drunken bar fight
– outwardly laugh at fart jokes – inwardly laugh at fart jokes
– refuse to eat vegetables – refuse to eat vegetables

Pardon me, maybe I’m misunderstanding innocence.  Perhaps innocence refers to the carefree joys of childhood rather than the morality of it.  You know, that idyllic age when we could stay home from school and watch movies when we were sick, and we didn’t have to worry about finding a job or a purpose.

But no, even then, I don’t really look back on my childhood fondly.  Don’t get me wrong – I was raised by amazing parents and siblings, and I was given every opportunity in the world to enjoy my youth.  But when it comes down to it, this is what I remember –

Sections of pie may not be internally consistent in scale.

Are my memories delusional?  Surely I’m not being fair.  There were great times – for instance, I remember fondly my mom taking me out to Carl’s Jr on a regular basis after preschool.  It was our thing, and I enjoyed it.  But back then, they were just times as they were.  They didn’t become great until I got older and realized I won’t often have the opportunity to eat at Carl’s with Mom anymore.  But as it is, most of my childhood activities about which my initial reaction is nostalgia were actually quite miserable at the time.  Backyard games always resulted in fighting or getting hurt.  Board games always resulted in fighting or getting hurt.  And with three older siblings around, I always felt helpless and too young to do anything.

But maybe I’m missing the point.  Maybe I’m being too harsh on our misremembering of childhood.  After all, isn’t our longing for the innocence of our youths telling enough for the brightness of our futures?  Is not the fact that we see childhood as a joyous ideal more important than the reality of whether it actually was?  What does it say about ourselves as adults when we nostalgically look back and dream of the days of running barefoot across lawns playing tag?  Does this nostalgic fondness show that, somewhere on the inside, we as adults are truly innocent?

Think about how much value we place on the joys of childhood.  The (arguably) greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane, is about longing for a lost childhood.  Every Christmas movie evokes a desire to return back to the days of our youth.  We want it, and we want it badly.

And yet, remember how all you wanted to do as a kid was grow up?  You wanted to ride the big-kid rides.  You wanted to get good at sports.  You played House, fantasizing that you were a married homemaker with kids.  Now we have that.  We can ride the rides.  We can play sports.  We are homemakers.  And yet, we’re dissatisfied and desire the pure, carefree innocence of a childhood we never actually experienced.

I think I know what separates children from adults now.  Children look fondly toward the future.  Adults look fondly at the past.  They want to grow up.  We want to go back.  Well, my friends, we can go back.  Let’s create that innocent childhood we’ve always wanted but never actually had.  Nothing is stopping you from playing barefoot on the lawn.  You may think your colleagues will judge you when you’re swinging on the playground swing in your work suit laughing about nothing in particular, but they’re all secretly jealous.  Just watch out for looking like a creeper.

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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52 Responses to Is Childhood Innocence a Lie?

  1. monkiss says:

    Here’s the deal, i sleep with a stuffed monkey, i’m 33. I’m on the adult/childhood thing with you. p.s it helps to marry someone who doesn’t care and maybe will go with you to sugar mountain to spend 28 dollars on pop rocks and ring pops. 😀 and someone will always think you’re a creeper.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      I think “looking like a creeper” is a fundamental issue with being an adult. I can’t tell you how many times I went back to my elementary school playground as a college student to swing on the swings at night, just waiting for the cops to surround me in a falsely-expected attempted drug bust.

      Alas, to the public eye, if you’re an adult on a playground supervising no kids, you’re either a pedophile or a dealer.

  2. I love the statement: “I think I know what separates children from adults now. Children look fondly toward the future. Adults look fondly at the past. They want to grow up. We want to go back.” I really think that it’s true.

  3. vyebrynt says:

    ”You may think your colleagues will judge you when you’re swinging on the playground swing in your work suit laughing about nothing in particular, but they’re all secretly jealous”

    People who are unhappy with their lives dont like to see other people happy. Happy people fall under close scrutiny…every ”child” like act is judged. Jealousy is their demise.

    I will forever wear PJs w/ the feet and play video games w/ my older brother. We are btw in our late 20’s, early 30’s. We may grow in age but at heart we should always remain that 10yr old kid who rubbed elmers glue all over their hands just to peel it off. Now that was fun!

  4. This is so true! Great insight. I just love your posts!

  5. Anette says:

    This is great and true! Thank you Dr. Quack. P.S. hiding from adults visiting… I have the same memory, about same %. I thought it was an odd thing.

    • Kat says:

      Wait, wait. Is this a common thing with kids? Because I hid from unfamiliar adults too, and my mom always acted like it was weird that I did that.

      • Anette says:

        It is possibly a common thing. I was despised for not presenting myself, showing off my dimples. I don’t care any longer, ’cause it is one of the reason why I am who I am today. And I’m quite pleased with the result :o)

      • I always hid because I was sick of being showed off to visitors.

      • Kat says:

        For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go socialize. I was just afraid of anyone I didn’t know–to the point where my terrified 4-year old self would run and hide in closets until someone forcibly dragged me out.

        Of course, to this day I am the queen of hide-and-seek, so it wasn’t all bad.

  6. Kat says:

    I think the moral of the story is that the grass is always greener on the other side. You’ll always want what you can’t have. Personally, I don’t want to ever completely “grow up.” Being a kid at heart is too much fun to give up.

    Also, ring pops are excellent. My siblings and I used to fight over the watermelon ones–and when my kid sister and I were given ring pops a few weeks ago, I was jealous that hers turned out to be the oh-so-coveted watermelon and mine did not.

  7. Rosemary says:

    The movie The Good Son

  8. Nana Ethel says:

    I agree, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. Think, though, about all the things we have now but never wanted. We pay taxes, look for work, break up relationships, console ailing loved ones. As a child, I never looked forward to these responsibilities. Similarly, now, I don’t covet the days of my youth I was neglected for being the boring sister, unable to do anything without a grownup’s permission (or money), and I definitely don’t miss homework. I know I miss the carefree routine of childhood, untainted with the disappointment growing up brings – but have you met some of those people who’ve not had to grow up? They live at home, expecting to be taken care of but assume they’ve all the rights of an adult. Icky, they are. I keep my whimsy, but I won’t trade my wisdom.

  9. wayward foe says:

    true about children being not so innocent. i have noticed that my nieces and nephews lie all the time, they lie when there’s no obvious advantage, they lie when its obvious till i have to ask them to lie only when there’s a possibility of belief. but i wouldn’t want to be a child again, the suffocating lack of freedom overwhelms everything else plus you can have the swings now, that’s a possibiliyt

  10. innocent1 says:

    I still outwardly laugh at fart jokes but I suppose that’s probably because I still don’t feel like an adult even though I have been reliably informed that I am one.

  11. Nicky says:

    I normally take care of my cousings and little sibling, as I am the first one of our tree line, and that has made me a grown up child. Honestly, I don’t care what people think about me, I never did. So I sit in the floor and eat some crayons with them while we make some none sense drawings in the work folders of my parents and laugh when they scream at us, just joking. Even so, that has also made me grow up really fast, as I have to take care of 6 fighting-to-death kids. All I have to say now is why stick to the past if we can create a future where we enjoy all what we want? At least that’s what I want to teach to the ones I take care of, tho.

  12. I absolutely love this! Amazingly true and sad at the same time. I see it with my kids, they are dying to grow up, and I dream of going back… we always want what we can’t have. I tell them “stop rushing to grow up because once you get there you’ll want a rewind button!”

  13. Reblogged this on thismomsfranticmind and commented:
    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this feeling.

  14. jcmarse says:

    Could not agree more. I was the youngest of three and I remember fighting off night time insects as I had to watch my brothers played baseball/football.

  15. Scott says:

    The funniest part of that is, now that we’re all ‘adults’, you can kick our asses at everything we used to beat you at. Car trips? You’ve traveled more in the past two years than I have in my entire life. Scrabble? Your vocab is better than any of ours. Trivial Pursuit? Scattergories? You have retained, by a wide margin, the biggest lexicon of useless facts. Sports? Don’t even get me started…

    There was no point to this entry. I just wanted to point out that however badly we beat you at stuff when you were a kid, you can have the last laugh….

  16. Becky Hayman says:

    Awww, Jeff! Thanks for the memory! I, too, look back on “our” Carl’s Jr. days with fondness (of course now I’m rueing the extra poundage!). Never for a moment, though, do I regret the stuff you and I did together. And, by the way, you can kick the crap out of us now with your intelligence — except at Scrabble! I still rule!! XOXOX

  17. Great exploration on the topic… loved the pie chart, and comparison list. Well done!

  18. CJ says:

    I want to go back and do only the fun things. I don’t want to go back to social studies, or religion class. Love this post, very well said.

  19. apg612 says:

    absolutely amazing exploration of the topic. As adults all we ever fantasize about doing is going back to the good old childhood days. Life has always been this tough only and will continue to be. the only thing that can help us rise form this nostalgia would be to inculcate the childlike “innocence” within each one of us..

  20. A great perspective on the topic. Whatever happened to just riding your bicycle for fun or playing hide-and-seek or cops-and-robbers for hours until your parents want to go somewhere – only then are you thirsty, hungry and have to go to the bathroom.

  21. writerhime88 says:

    Other than the anarchy on the playground and many of my peers enjoying the least opportunity to hurt someone I also remember quite a few conversations that took place on the playground that if heard by the adults would have forever killed the idea that children are inherently innocent and good. That and the knowledge that children as young as seven and eight carry around in their heads today, such as sex, violence, the swear words they use and the fact that they know full well what they mean, have further cemented the idea in my mind that children are only as innocent as their environment.
    No matter how much effort a parent might put in at keeping home an swear word free zone, or to not discuss subjects like sex and violence (or the combination) in front of their kids, there is always the possibility, in the public school system, the certainty, that their kids will hear about it somewhere else. In the hallways at school, or at the playground.
    I’ve noticed, also, that teenagers do not have a sense of place when they talk about drugs or sex or whatever, and that they talk about it in a loud voice in public places with no respect to who might be hearing them. Honestly, I think they are the culprits when it comes to the fact that we now have elementary kids who know what a blowjob is, for example.
    An old saying comes to mind, “Little pitchers have big ears.”

  22. thelooker23 says:

    Amazing! Since I’m still a teenager, I still might not get the wholeness of the whole thing; I want to grow up, but at the same time I still want to go back to being a little kid when all of my sisters were still in the house and we could play games all day instead of going to school and such. XP

  23. OperationJA says:

    I still chuckled about the laughing at the fart jokes and the other one about eating vegetables… hahah. That’s right… keep them jealous y’all. I’m gonna go swing on my swing.

  24. mari says:

    Very interesting piece. It fits in well with the book I am just recently finishing – LOST HORIZON by James Hilton. Yes , an old book but certainly something worthy of thought and reading. Everything is inside of us – we only need to keep track of it.

  25. Rick Bailey says:

    Funny stuff, Dr Q. Again, you’ve created an outstanding post, and very well written. You captured the feeling of youth from adulthood, the yearning for adulthood from youth. We’re silly people, all told. We want what we don’t have. Perhaps your suggestion is best – just act like a kid when you feel like it. On the other hand, we should also just live in “today” even from childhood. This is very personality-driven. Some kids can do it, many can’t. Same with adults. But otherwise we’re in danger of wishing our lives away. Not grasping what is here right now and savoring it. This is especially true when you become a parent and with horror, you realize that you haven’t enjoyed all of your kid’s childhood that you could have.

  26. Lebo says:

    Nice take on childhood bro! Based on your comparison chart, there’s not much of a difference between adults and kids.. Lol!

  27. Pingback: #14 The Flying Fossils | Dots.

  28. Angel says:

    “Children look fondly toward the future. Adults look fondly at the past. They want to grow up. We want to go back.” (Excerpt)

    Suddenly felt goosebumps when I read this part. And usually when I feel goosebumps, there is always that awkward real connection and conscious awareness that I am able to relate to what you just wrote and for which all I try so hard to deny.

    [At the back of my mind] “We can never go back we should all keep moving forward…but hey, maybe you’re right…I probably would want to go back (topped by a sigh of secret longing)…..No, I know I don’t want to go back.”

    But when I really think about it, there isn’t really that much of a difference because many children and (especially) adults do not deal with and savor the greatness of what’s present. I say…. realize the value of time. And as Master Shifu quoted “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, That’s why it’s called the Present” 🙂

  29. larissa says:

    I think I’m in love with you? I only made put a question mark at the end of that sentence to make it seem less creepy and more friendly. Really, I love your blog though.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Ah yes, the question mark. Softening uncomfortably blunt sincerity since its inception in our expressive lexicon. How I adore thee, caster of absolving doubt. It is an honor to be the recipient of even your most hesitant confessions.

      I jest, I jest. But really, if you’re afraid of sounding creepy, feel free to check out my Guide for the Objectification of Women, and either your amorous feelings will vanish completely, or you’ll realize that there is no such thing as “too creepy” for this blog.

      • larissa says:

        Hahaha. I read the Guide for the Objectification of Women, but unfortunately (for you? for me? who is it unfortunate for?) it makes you seem like….quite the nice guy. I think I will have to write a Guide for the Hunting of Men along similar lines. Maybe you already know this, but this is really good, btw, especially the fugue which starts at around 2:50.

        Am I abusing my love of Shostakovich to show off and intrigue you? Sure, sue me. But it is also just awesome.

      • Doctor Quack says:

        It’s quite a coincidence that you linked the Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major, because I happened to play that same prelude for a piano proficiency jury years ago (not the fugue though). Personally however, while the D-flat fugue is short, sweet, and exciting, I prefer the pathos of the nearly-tedious D-minor fugue.

        By the way, Shostakovich is my favorite composer.

        If you write the man-hunting entry, I’ll read it. Although, I’ve been trying to read your blog anyway, but depending on whether I click your username from my Dashboard or from my comments page, WordPress sends me to different blogs, so I don’t actually know which one is yours.

      • larissa says:

        I have always wanted to play the Prelude and Fugue in D-flat as well but have never got around to it! Do you really think it’s sweet though? I always thought of it as obsessive and crazy. Thanks for the link, I really enjoyed listening to the D-minor fugue, it is the perfect thing to be listening to right now. If I had to describe it, maybe I’d say…it’s the small sad things in our everyday lives? It’s a person walking down the street and feeling alienated from his surroundings. Well, maybe that is just a bit too specific, hahaha.

        By the way, Rachmaninoff is my favorite composer but I have an obsession with Shostakovich. :p

        I don’t know if I will get around to writing a Man Hunting entry after all, recently I’m thinking more about failures and how important they are in our lives (wow, random haha), but if you want to check out my blog it is here: I’m not sure why wordpress sends you to different blogs, I think my blog might have a virus, it does crazy things sometimes!

      • Doctor Quack says:

        Oh, I meant sweet in a “That’s super cool / sweet / awesome / the shiznit / groovy,” rather than sweet in an “awwww” way.

        Rachmaninoff is definitely top 5 for me. When I’m not in the mood for a Shostakovichian diatribe or want something more cohesive but still undeniably Russian, I go for Rachmaninoff. Are you a pianist?

      • larissa says:

        Oh, of course! That makes more sense, hahaha.

        I wish I were a pianist but I’m not, really. I mean, I am a pianist but I’m not a concert pianist so I feel like I don’t have the rights to say “I’m a pianist.” My mother is a piano teacher though, so I’ve played my entire life and still keep up. Since I’m mostly left up to my own devices, I just play…everything Rachmaninoff. It is still a dream of mine to play his 3rd concerto with an orchestra, even if I have to pay every single one of them to do so…
        You mentioned that you are doing a Masters in music composition, do you still play? What are you working on at the moment?

      • Doctor Quack says:

        I never actually formally played piano, but I had to prove I could at least fumble around the keys in order to graduate with a BA in Music. I used to play oboe and clarinet, but composition has always sort of been my main focus.

        Surely I shan’t bore you with the details. At this moment, I’m writing a short-movement cycle for Czech-style folk ensemble where each movement personifies a character in one of my favorite stories, Milan Kundera’s “The Joke.”

        Also, if you can play any Rachmaninoff at all, it means you’re damn good.

      • larissa says:

        What! You like Milan Kundera, too? Gosh. I haven’t read The Joke unfortunately, only Unbearable Lightness of Being and Laughter and Forgetting. Why did you choose Czech-style folk for composition? Do bore me, please.

        Haha I would say that I am very good technically at the piano, but I do not have a deep enough understanding of music composition and therefore sometimes my playing sounds superficial and mechanic (despite my best efforts, that is not the way I feel about what I play).

        By the way, I did end up writing a post called “How To Find A Man And Keep Him,” if you want to check it out.

      • Doctor Quack says:

        Kundera is only my favorite author, and sadly I only discovered him a mere two years ago, but I’m currently on my sixth Kundera novel. I highly recommend The Joke and Immortality. The Joke is more of a conventional narrative (as compared to tULoB and tBoLaF, which are almost philosophical theses whose characters are admittedly false and the author’s voice is strong), and Immortality is really like tULoB Part II (none of the same characters, but same style and a continuation of the same themes), and I almost like Immortality better, although it has very little to do with Czechoslovakia, unlike his other novels (the action takes place in France).

        It was more about using The Joke as a theme for a composition rather than using a Czech style. I wanted to personify the characters that I like so very much, and in the story, Moravian folk music is an underlying theme and very important to nearly every character. Hence, I thought it only appropriate that, in musical portraits of the characters, I incorporate some of the musical style which they themselves used to express themselves in the story.

        You don’t necessarily need knowledge of composition to avoid sounding mechanical. As cliche as this sounds, you just need to play from the heart. And like what you’re playing. And pretend no one is listening. The fingers are merely an expressive tool; they don’t play the music, you do. If you know the music, the fingers will fall in place, and once that happens, it’s up to you to feel the music, or else they’ll only ever fall in place. (now I’m sounding musically preachy, which is obnoxious)

        In any case, one of the most valuable lessons in musicianship ever taught to me was this simple statement: “The notes are exactly what we call them: notes – much like the notes you take in a class or lecture. They’re for you to review and learn from, but that’s all they’re there for.”

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  31. amrithinka says:

    I think when we look back in time we tend to only concentrate on the good…..that’s me with everything: school, university…..I reminisce the childhood games, the partying but not the fights and the drama.

  32. Pingback: The Winners Write the History (and Children’s) Books | Babies and Dogs

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