Childhood: The Struggle is Real

Iman Baber

If the prospect of maintaining perfect grades, choosing a major, and deciding what to do with the rest of your life seems daunting, you’re not alone. My own heart rate instantly quickens and I get stressed out when I realize that I only have four more precious years before I will have to make a place for myself in society. The constant burden of choosing the most challenging classes to deciding my path in life feels heavier on my shoulders after each and every day. I’ve never really considered just one career my whole life, and now I feel as if the whole weight of the world is pressuring me to just pick. All ambitions, ideas, and adventures must be narrowed down to one tiny pinpoint out of the enormous view I have of the world. But wait. I’m barely 20 percent through my life and society is already having me walk down a road I’m not sure I am ready to journey on. I am already expected to be academically, socially, and street smart. To be a mature worker. Just like the rest of us. Just like you. A kid who grew up too fast.

From one grade to the next. Accumulating new amounts of stress year after year. There’s a trend to this. Ever since our first steps from our own little planets into the outside world, it was almost as if we were stepping onto a conveyer belt and into society’s factory. I’m automatically reminded of that scene from “Monster’s Inc.” when Sully thinks he’s seeing Boo go through the garbage disposal system. Our brain is what’s going through the factory; our emotions are like Sully. We go through a variety of functions repeatedly through the course of our young lives: learn, learn, test, test, learn, and repeat. And the consequence of this? Stress, conflicting feelings, and our lives revolving around the prospect of building our future. Living to build a life for ourselves? What kind of life is that supposed to be? And that’s not even the worst part.

I remember a while ago, while spending time at the mall, I saw a group of three girls. They couldn’t have been any older than nine, but they were acting, dressing, and talking like high schoolers. I couldn’t believe it. Is it now that being a child is “uncool” and no longer acceptable? Apparently, yes. You have to be socially outgoing and appealing in order to stay in front of the pack. In the eyes of society, a teenager is obviously much more desirable than a child. But are the consequences of this ideology being considered? During our first years, our brain is undergoing rapid development, mentally and emotionally. Our emotional responses gradually become complex and so does our understanding of the world. Think of the numerous consequences of telling a growing mind that an adult is the thing to be. And as we grow into a teenager? By now we are considered “adults,” so, naturally, we should have the mind of one. But our brain is only 80 percent mature. Our frontal cortex, the logical part of our mind that thinks through things, is still under development. All of our actions are guided by our amygdala, the part of the brain that incites immediate emotional reaction. That is why we do crazy things and make a lot of mistakes. And when the “mindset of an adult” is thrown into the mix? Imagine what could happen.

I like to think of childhood as a mound of clay. We spend our time molding and shaping the clay, creating an image of ourselves that we like. We explore and dare to imagine bold dreams. Nowadays, it’s like a hairdryer is being held over us. We are frantically trying to create something, and by the time we are “dry” it’s not even clear what we have become. And after adding the pressure of our future and the expectations of the world on us? Most of us break.

If my article has added to the stress already balancing on your shoulders, I want to tell you to relax. Life is too short to worry all the time, and passes by fast when the small things are not enjoyed. So, here’s my advice: slow down! It’s ok to be a kid again. To be the one who jumps for joy, cartwheels across the grass, or watches Disney movies and sings along, too. All of us are caught in the race of life, and I get it, we get seriously stressed out sometimes. But even if the whole world comes crashing down, just stop and take a breath. Think about the important things, and enjoy all the fun and beautiful things in life. Society has created an image that our lives should be only depression and tragedy, and I think it’s our fault that we believed. So change the norm, and let imagination run free. Because, like Walt Disney used to say, “Who says we have to grow up?”.