As the world appears to be a bleak place in many ways, adults try to protect children as much as possible. “Preserving children’s innocence,” is a typical phrase. In the past, when the hazards of life were much more apparent – no immunizations against smallpox, no seat belts much less air bags on carriages, and barbarian hordes around every corner, for instance – adults were less concerned about children’s innocence, as illustrated by the appropriately titled Grimm’s Fairy Tales, though as the Wikipedia entry illustrates, even then adults were starting to worry about cleaning up their act as far as what they told young ones about the world
The trouble with protecting children’s innocence is that when the kids start to grow up and discover that the world is a bit cruel and nasty, they get a shock like having the water in a warm shower suddenly turn icy cold. Children do not always take this loss of innocence well.
I don’t remember ever being all that innocent and optimistic. My wife, the youngest of five, encountered the shock of her parents’ divorce, but on the whole managed to live in world of happy oblivion – “I lived in Disneyland” – I think she once said to me. Later in life, she was rather startled to hear from her oldest sister about how much conflict there had been in her family and to realize how much bitterness her sister held against their mother.
As my wife entered her teens, she began to develop an identity of her own, such as wearing black pants and dressing as a beatnik (as her mother regarded her mildly eccentric teenage apparel), and lying about how she met me when we started to date. Her mother did not take this well, resulting in a huge scene and my wife throwing herself out of her house as soon as she reached the age of 18. She got a tiny apartment and a crummy job as a file clerk and a little television of her own. As she began to watch the television news instead of the Mickey Mouse Club, she began to realize the world has a lot of ugly stuff. My wife is not a person to get depressed by temperament, but she went through a period of gloom as she thought about the nature of the world.
While not universal, the process of “protecting children’s innocence,” followed by childish depression and disillusionment, followed by who knows what hi-jinks with alcohol, drugs, sex, religious fanaticism, violence and other crime, is a fairly common cycle in modern life.