Childhood Matters Just as Much as Adulthood


NIght Sky
@haydenjferrell via Twenty20

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much awe as I did when I was 12 years old.

National Geographic had just published a book called The Amazing Universe. I was thrilled to discover my parents’ copy and to begin to learn about galaxies, neutron stars, and black holes. Then I got myself a planisphere and started to identify stars and constellations as I lay in my front yard in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I remember staring up into the sky on cold winter evenings and feeling waves of thrill and mystery wash over me. Looking up at the constellations, I peered into a universe that is unfathomably vast and filled with strange and exotic stars and planets. I remember, lying out on the grass, feeling insignificant on a cosmic scale, and yet also recognizing that my feelings and thoughts were tremendously important.

Childhood: The Age of Discovery

Childhood is the age of discovery, and what a thrill ride it is!

It’s natural for parents to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood. Indeed, young children start out life able to do so little for themselves. As they grow, they have to learn how to do almost everything, including controlling their bodies and emotions, reading and writing, and navigating the adult world. Sometimes this process can seem to take forever.

And yet it’s easy to lose sight of an essential truth as we help our children grow: Childhood is not just training for adulthood, it’s important and valuable in its own right. In fact, I believe it is just as important and valuable as adulthood.

What matters more: The moment when 35-year-old Amanda finally hits her stride in her career and gets promoted to vice president of regional sales? Or the moment when five-year-old Amanda finally figures out how she can be friends with both Isabella and Julia? Honest question. What’s your call?

Childhood is not just training for adulthood, it’s important and valuable in its own right.

Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and author, says that, if we look closely, we can see young children’s power and accomplishment in many places, including in their “complex artwork and verbal dexterity; in their rewarding friendships and inventive forms of play; in their feats of engineering and scientific discoveries; in their probing questions and innate sense of numbers; in their wry observations and sophisticated humor; in their oddball obsessions and relentless work ethic; and, of course, in their boundless curiosity about so many things.”1

In adolescence, our capacity for feeling grows rapidly and reaches a peak. Emotions are so raw and powerful in part because adolescent brains don’t yet have a fully developed limbic cortex — the part of our brain that enables us to put emotions in context and act in a way that advances our long-term interests. (Sometimes I yearn for those days!)

What Does This All Mean?

When your emotions or frustrations are running high, or when you’re worried about your child and how he or she is developing, take a moment to pause and bring yourself back to your own childhood. What do you remember from your own age of discovery? What important discoveries did you make? What mattered to you?

And then bring yourself back to the present and your own child. What amazing powers does your child have already? What discoveries are they making? What matters to them?

Reflecting on these questions, you can’t help but realize: You’re shepherding a young person not only to their future — but also through their extraordinary present.

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Childhood Matters Just as Much as Adulthood
  1. Erika Christakis, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups, p. xviii.