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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Children without childhood

Wed, 16 Sep 2020 15:04:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

In these days thousands of children return to the classrooms, in a singular status no doubt. This will affect them, as almost everything that happens in childhood marks the adult, for better or for worse. The possibilities of development that are not taken advantage of and the personal problems that are not attended to will affect the development future in some way. For example, curiosity makes possible the attitude of questioning and, with it, the eagerness to know; but the lack of answers from parents can kill that curiosity.

It is worrying that in today's society there is a proliferation of children without childhood. This status was predicted half a century ago by the American sociologist and pedagogue Neill Postman (1931-2003), who was then labeled "enlightened" and a prophet of doom. Today it is an evident reality in many countries.

I will not deal on this occasion with child soldiers or child laborers (the latter, according to the ILO, number 152 million worldwide). I will comment on the status of those who, without being victims of these scourges, are not given the opportunity to live the age in which they are: the age of fantasy, dreams, illusion and hope. Instead, they are indoctrinated and prepared as future "winners" in an excessively competitive and utilitarian society. Some of them may succeed materially in adult life, but they will probably never free themselves from the trauma and emptiness of a childhood that was stolen from them.

These children have their childhood stage (from birth to 12 years old) artificially shortened because it is not considered "productive". Added to this is the fact that children receive all subject of information and stimuli (some negative) through television and the Internet, at an age when they cannot digest it.

It is important to prepare them for the future, but that is not incompatible with letting them enjoy their childhood. We cram them with extracurricular classes (computers, languages, etc.) and forget that at that stage they need a lot of free time for recreational reading, games and sports.

The world has become a global village, where everyone can see everything and at the same moment it is happening. There is no longer a separate world for adults and a separate world for children, as was the case in the past. For example, we used to not talk about everything in front of children.

Childhood is today in danger of disappearing for sociological and cultural reasons, which are very difficult to avoid. In our society, what is proper to childhood, its main sign of identity - innocence - is being lost.

Children no longer live the stage of childhood for another added reason: the ease with which they can find information on their own. Today children handle more data than parents because they receive all subject information through the Internet, without having to ask at home. For example, in the topic of the origin of life.

 It is well known that some traumas of older people were engendered in their childhood, precisely because they knew things they should not have known at that age. The child needs to discover the problems and mysteries of adult life very slowly and in a psychologically acceptable way; if this natural rhythm is broken, he may become a premature adult. This would be a distortion of childhood. To distort is to alter the true nature of something.

Children should be children for the entire duration of their childhood. A child is not a person who is "not yet an adult"; a child has his or her own entity and rights. On November 20, 1959, the UN (United Nations) promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document includes 10 children's rights, of which I will mention a few.

They have the right to life, to food, to Education (this is an essential element for the social, psychological and economic development of the child). Right to health, to identity, to protection (all children must grow up protected to preserve their physical and psychological well-being. No child should suffer exploitation, discrimination or mistreatment). Right to have a family (since children are growing persons, they need all the understanding and affection that the family can give them, as an environment of unconditional love in accordance with the dignity of the person).

There would be no need to invoke these rights if one were to accept Rabidranath Tagore's eulogy of childhood: "Every child born is the promise that God still believes in man".