There must be an ideal age floating around in our collective unconscious. This is such a fixed part of our media-driven culture that it’s hard to focus on it. But let’s give it a try. Allow a number come to you as you consider the following questions.
What age do parents have in mind as they groom their kids for success?
What age do kids have in mind as they imagine growing up?
What age do older adults have in mind as they try to look and act younger?
I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 21 and 35, a time when we’re supposed to be brimming with youthful good looks and potential. Or maybe it’s not a number but just a fundamental belief that young adulthood is some sort of peak. Everything before that is preparation, everything after a slide toward old age.
Consciously or unconsciously, believing in this ideal age uses up a large part of all our other ages.
Consider how relentlessly the adult world prods children to get (or at least act) older. I know I’m somewhat guilty. I did my very best to savor the baby and toddler years but honestly, it’s hard. I found myself thinking that it would just get better after they finished teething, or could talk, or finally mastered toilet training. Even the most sainted in-the-moment parent will find him or herself bombarded with well-intended, future-oriented inquiries from others like, “Is she sleeping through the night?” and “Does he talk in sentences yet?” Such questions don’t stop as the child gets older, instead they have to do with bigger topics like academic abilities, athletic achievement, even popularity. Admiration is heaped on little ones who act much older than their developmental age, especially those children who exhibit social poise beyond their years, as if six-year-olds who act like six-year-olds are already somehow behind.
The pressure becomes more intense with each passing year. Parents often find themselves buying all sorts of educational toys and electronics, filling what could be free time with an ambitious schedule of practices and enrichment programs, and of course, pushing educational achievement. We’re told that these efforts “count” as if there’s a permanent record for eight-year-olds or 13-year-olds. There isn’t.
We’re assured that getting kids ahead in sports or hobbies will create passionate engagement, but research affirms that children build rewardingly intense interests when they are free to explore activities without adult pressure and interference
We’re led to believe that early academic accomplishment is the path to later success. Too often, that’s not true either. Success is closely linked to much more nuanced personal factors which develop quite nicely, research tells us, during free play, early participation in household tasks, conversation, and other experiences that foster self- control as well as an internal locus of control.
Pushing our children toward adulthood takes us (and them) away from seeing that each of us are whole people exactly as we are. A baby is not an unformed child, a child is not an ungrown adult, an elder is not an age-ruined version of a once younger self.
Each of us is wonderfully unique. Of course we’re flawed and often foundering. But at the same time we are also brimming with emerging possibilities. We don’t have to paddle away from the moment we live in toward some ideal age. Doing so doesn’t just wish away right now, it also condemns every other age we live in to be something less.
6 thoughts on “What’s The Perfect Age?”
I love this post! It’s SO true– we are in such a rush to get to (or get back to!) some magic age. Funny, huh, that research shows that children who get to do what children do best (play) — do best in later stages!
This was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.
We try to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now. Of course there are milestones we need to work towards but having them shoved in our face all the time makes hard to focus on celebrating each little one in the moment, and enjoying the passing of old and coming of new. My favourite part of your piece is ……..”A baby is not an unformed child, a child is not an ungrown adult, an elder is not an age-ruined version of a once younger self.” I will print this out and stick this to my wall. Maybe it will help to ground me when my head starts floating away in others expectations again. Thank-You again for sharing your wisdom.
Growing up, for me the perfect age was 29. I don’t know why, but I had all sorts of ideas about who I would be and what I would be like at 29 that had nothing to do with who I was or what I was doing now. For some reason I thought that at 29 I would be someone else…
When I was a teenager, the perfect age was 27! I didn’t know what it would be like, but I loved that number. I was a child who received lots of praise for “acting older,” or “being more mature than my age,” whatever the heck that meant. I think it means absolutely nothing. I was talented in certain areas, but now that I’m an adult, it really has all leveled out. Receiving this praise for “maturity” put a lot of pressure on me to always be “mature.” I wish adults would think about this before they praise children for their “maturity.” Especially as a teen, I did not feel I had any leeway to ever act immature, i.e. be a teenager. So I’m glad you wrote this post. I think it’s very well said.
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