Let the kids be kids

A few days ago I decided to watch some TV while having breakfast. It is summertime, though, so morning TV is even worse than usual. Seriously, not even a good breakfast programme… Like, come on, not everyone is on holidays, some of us need a bit of entertainment with our porridge.

I digress.

Anyway, I landed on reruns of some kiddie talent show. It was… an experience, to say the least. After a tango performed by a pair of 10-year-olds (surprisingly well, I have to admit), I was treated to a 4-year-old girl shouting out a poem she probably didn’t understand a word of (she was also told she’s amazing and all that talent show jazz) and twin girls singing Abba, quite poorly at that, standing stiff in the middle of the stage. It was hard to watch, and even harder to listen to all the positive things the judges had to say about the, admittedly, mediocre performances. And, you know, I don’t blame them. You can’t expect too much from a 4-year-old. But should that 4-year-old have been on national television in the first place?

I’m really conflicted on that.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with kids dancing, singing and doing gymnastics. Quite the contrary – developing a passion and sticking to a discipline that usually accompanies such hobbies is great for them. What I have a problem with is kids being put on talent shows, usually ones where they compete with adults. It is hardly a level playing field, and it usually ends up with buckets of tears. Because, you know, a 5-year-old doesn’t understand why they’ve just been told they have to go home, even though this nice lady said they were fantastic just 20 minutes ago. It’s difficult for an adult to handle, let alone a fragile little human. The thing is, it’s pretty much always the parents who think it’s a good idea to show off their child this way. And this I’m just not smart enough to understand.

There are so many other opportunities for your child to showcase their talent in a much less stressful and intimidating environment. Such as school talent shows. Or local competitions. And please, don’t tell me they don’t exist, because if they existed in Eastern Poland 15 years ago, they exist where you live. And I know they existed, because I was one of the kids happily competing in them. And I’ve medals to prove it ;)

When I was a little girl (between the ages of 7 and 10, I believe), I was a ballroom dancer. You know, like those people on Dancing with the Stars. It meant practice 3 or 4 times a week, which had to fitted in around other commitments (like school, English lessons and Aikido training. Yes, I was a busy kid). Then there were competitions you had to get up early for to drive to a different city, dress up, get your hair done, go through a warm up, ‘testing the floor’. And it was all super exciting. Seriously, I loved every minute of it. The practice, the custom made dresses, shoes made just for me so they’d fit perfectly, the competitions. But I was never, not once, pushed to do it. I think my parents even welcomed the end of my dancing career (caused by a sudden growth spurt and inability to find a tall enough partner my age), because it cost them a fortune. But let me get one thing straight – those crazy dresses you see on Dancing with the Stars? You will never see a 9-year-old in one of those, because ballroom dancing associations have very strict rules about what certain age groups can wear. So my dress had to be a certain length, couldn’t have any decorations, had to be a single colour etc. In a way, they did everything not to sexualise little girls. And thank God for that.

Because then I turn the TV on, and, in its usual style, TLC shows me Toddlers and Tiaras. If you’ve ever watched it you know that it’s a complete freak show of pushy soccer moms and their daughters, slathered in more foundation than I’ve collectively used in my lifetime, sporting wigs and gem-decorated Disney princess dresses. Hell, they even have babies in diapers ‘running’ (can they run for something if they can’t walk?) for little miss. I mean, come on, you won’t convince me the kid wanted to be there, they can’t tell their arm from their leg just yet. Most of them just end up crying and trying to crawl away. Amazing fun, really.

You know what else those baby beauty pageants do? Hurt little girls’ self esteems. Just look at this little princess, who runs off when the reporter asks her if she thinks she’s beautiful. She obviously is, I’m sure she has a sweet little face under all the make up, but she doubts herself so much it’s sad to watch. Should a girl this small have so much doubt about her appearance? I don’t even remember caring about mine at that age, other than wanting to have earrings (terrible idea if you’re needle phobic) and crying my eyes out when my gran told the hairdresser to chop my hair off (still haven’t forgiven her).

So not only are we creating all those impossible body goals for young women in female magazines, we’re beginning to push the little ones into this bottomless hole too. They really don’t deserve to be made so aware of their bodies at such a young age. Sure, they should eat a healthy diet, wear clean clothes and wash their hair. But having your kid starve herself so it looks good in a swimming suit part of the competition, or fits into her new dress – that’s not ok on more levels than I can count to. We seem to live in a crazy time where not only do we objectify and body shame teenagers and women – we’re beginning to objectify girls.

Just look at this little one


She’s dressed nicely, but not like an adult, her hair is lightly curled, and no make up in sight. She’s so pretty and angelic I’m jealous. She’s also a stock photo, but that’s immaterial. Her parents allowed her to look like a sweet little girl she is, and didn’t think putting her on TV will be a dream come true.

If you ever watched Got Talent, you probably saw kids competing with adults. When I was looking for materials for this post, I stumbled upon a semi-final of Britain Got Talent video of Hollie Steel. And it struck me not because she was terrible. Quite the contrary. She has a fantastic voice. But she broke down mid-song, because she forgot the words. And to me, that just goes to show that a 10-year-old should not have been put in this position in the first place. Not because her singing isn’t good enough, but because she’s not emotionally ready for this. I was literally crying along with her, because it was so incredibly sad even Simon Cowell was nice to her. Simon Cowell, can you imagine?

I actually took time to look Hollie up on Google. She’s 18 now, and still singing. You can find her on Facebook, which I recommend, because she has a very pleasant  voice. The point, though, is that, thankfully, the experience of frantic sobbing on national television didn’t break her in half. If you’re thinking that goes to disprove my point, I think you’re wrong.

Because see what happened to so many of the kid stars of our childhood that became really famous. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen? I’ve absolutely no idea, they pretty much disappeared off the face of earth. Although, according to this article, they’re doing pretty well for themselves, which is so much better than what happened to Lindsay Lohan. I could watch The Parent Trap on replay, I seriously love this movie, but when I look at Lindsay now, I can’t help but think that it would have been so much better for her if that acting career never happened to her. Should I look any further? Macaulay Culkin. He couldn’t look any less like Kevin Home Alone these days. You want more? Britney Spears. Amanda Bynes. Michael Jackson. Demi Lovato. All the other ones who either overdosed, or only came back after years of rehab. Not to mention all those who just disappeared off the face of the earth.  Does anyone remember Tokio Hotel? God, their music was so terrible I hope you don’t.

What I’m really trying to say here is, kids are not as resistant as adults. To be honest, even some adults can’t handle being rich and famous (see: Winehouse, Amy; Houston, Whitney). The fact that they’re insanely talented has very little to do with it. It really isn’t about the talent. Truth be told, many of the kids on Got Talent really are very talented. And those girls on Toddlers and Tiaras – very pretty. But, if they’re so talented, can’t they wait a few years? Neither pageants, nor talent shows, are going anywhere any time soon. Why not wait until your child is in their late teens, or even early twenties, so they can make the decision themselves, maybe a bit more aware of what’s happening to them, instead of putting your toddler up to be scrutinised based on her looks? Or the quality of singing? Or dancing? And, funnily enough, the adult miss candidates wear roughly a quarter of the make up the little princesses do. Go figure.

I went for an evening run yesterday with my dad. We run on a track around a school football pit, and this time round, there were loads of children there. Boys and girls, of different ages, from toddlers to teenagers, in groups of friends or with their parents. There was a girl kicking the ball with her mom and dad, wearing the cutest ballet flats, not caring she might make them dirty. A boy in a wheelchair throwing a ball with his parents and sister. A group of teenage boys, swearing terribly, and doing some sort of routine of standing up then collapsing in unison. I didn’t manage to figure out what they were doing, but they seemed to be having fun. I saw a mixed team of 5-6 year olds and 15-16 year olds, with the older ones trying not to knock the kids out. The kids were all different, dressed differently, looking differently, and their success rate in actually hitting the ball was a bit of a mixed bag, but you know what was the one thing they all had in common?

They were having fun.

Let the kids be kids.

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