Stephen Kahn

Disillusionment and Re-illusionment (Part 1)

In Hard to tell on December 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm

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.

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  1. the three- and four-year-old grandchildren discovered “death” sometime in the past year or so and they bring it up from time to time – sometimes frequently. don’t know exactly how they learned about it – nobody close died – but they did.

    once that’s under your belt as a little kid, however much you are protected, i have an idea that on some deep level, you already know that you’re screwed.

  2. In the case of my granddaughter, a pet cat died when she was about three years old. Of the two cats, the one who died was the less lovable. Her mommies held a little funeral ceremony for him. She’s seven and one of these days, she will lose a grandparent. I agree about when we realize we’re waiting for the fork to be stuck in us.

  3. I think it is better to be honest with kids, without too much sheltering. It really just amounts to lies. I think that faith it worth teaching, because whether you believe things are going to be okay or not life is rocky and unpredictable. If you believe you can weather the storm before it comes at you, it makes life seem a little easier.

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