When are we going to let children just be children? When are we going to stop dressing children up in adult get-ups for adult entertainment or amusement or shock value?
I got my buttons punched this week. Once again, it was over the treatment of children, small children, on a television show. I've written before about the cultural car wreck that is the Toddlers & Tiaras phenomenon -- terrible, compelling and hard to look away. Now, this past week, it's happened again. This time, it wasn't some three-year-old dressed up to look like Julia Roberts as the hooker in Pretty Woman. This time, the adult costuming wasn't false eyelashes or a teased wig or fake boobs. This time, the adult costuming was the F-bomb in the mouth of a two-year-old.
I say costuming because, as one of the cast members of this show angrily tweeted after negative reaction, the two-year-old "didn't ACTUALLY say FU*K." During the taping of this controversial episode of Modern Family, the child was told to say "fudge." This word was then bleeped out after the "fu . . ." intro. What a relief. It was only meant to give the impression that the toddler said FU*K. The child didn't really say FU*K but only said "fudge," so no harm, no foul, right?
Wrong. At least, wrong to me. As a therapist, I sit in my office on a regular basis and listen to the damage done to children, even decades after the fact, when adult themes and actions and attitudes are thrust upon the young too soon. I've seen the loss and sadness and regret when innocence and that indescribable essence of childhood are ripped away like an unhealed scab. There isn't a way to completely go back and recapture that innocence. As a therapist, you do your best to help reclaim a part of it again so the person can move on and heal and recover but there is always scar tissue.
That's why Toddlers & Tiaras and this latest F-bomb thing make me mad. Who, deep down, really thinks this is funny? I understand the surface reaction; oh, isn't she cute and isn't this shocking and, besides, she doesn't really know what she's saying. But she will and too soon because children in our culture are not protected and allowed to grow out of their childhood on their own terms. We are so impatient and push the envelope on everything, including growing up. We dress our kids like young adults in grade school, take them with us to watch adult-themed movies because we think they won't understand and sit around as parents, trading stories about when our little darlings first said FU*K or SH*T or whichever word it was.
We laugh at the hilarity and incongruity of such crudity coming out of that sweet and precious little mouth. Imagine the horror if our two-year-old's mouth didn't just say SH*T but actually contained it. The one is just a metaphor for the other. Cuss words, obscenities are not Shakespearean English. They are not grand thoughts and lofty concepts. They are gutter words, meant to convey raw, adult, uncensored emotions, thoughts and images. Do they have a place in an adult world? They definitely do in this one. But they do not belong in a child's world. FU*K may be a cutting edge, courageous word to put into the mouth of a two-year-old on television but it's rarely as glamorous or humorous in real life, especially for the child, who wades into raw adult crudity. Children are not ready for that kind of exposure or the damage it can cause. So, I don't find this sort of thing funny; I find it heart-breaking. I don't find it cutting edge; I find it cutting - sharp and damaging.
What sort of scar tissue are we creating for our children? When are we going to let children just be children?
Follow Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gregoryjantzphd