Do you recall the movie “Freaky Friday,” where a mother and her daughter accidentally traded souls? The daughter’s soul switched places into her mother’s body, making a grown-up woman behave like a teenager. And the mother, in her daughter’s form, started acting grown up. The changing of personalities perplexed everyone.
According to an article about Erika Christakis, a former professor at Yale University and early-education expert, today’s culture has become a lot like that movie.
Christakis says, “Adults and children have reversed roles. Adults, she says, now act like children, reading children’s books and dressing like college students, while children have become overscheduled and hyper-pressured, their childhoods cut short. ‘Adults are paying attention to their own self-care with mindfulness and spa care and yoga, yet children are really suffering.’
“In her new book, ‘The Importance of Being Little,’ Ms. Christakis, 52, argues that giving children less downtime has made them more fragile. She fears that overburdening them with facts, figures and extracurricular activities has led to a decrease in their autonomy and resilience. Giving children free time to play with others, she says, allows them to learn how to solve problems and deal with conflicts.”
I have noticed this too. Everywhere we look, more and more, we see our culture wooing adults to act like children. Consider these examples:
- Entertainment venues are popping up, ones like Chuck-E-Cheeses, designed not for kids but for adults
- Coloring books designed just for adults
- Guys wearing pajamas with footies
- Corporations who host extreme games and juvenile activities for their employees, when no kids are present, under the banner of team building
- Businessmen and women wearing excessively casual clothing in the workplace
While these activities and trends are in good fun and may be mostly harmless, the trend toward a reverence (almost obsession) for youthfulness is concerning.
Christakis is not the only one to have made this observation about children and grown-ups reversing roles. In his 2004 essay, “The Perpetual Adolescent,” Joseph Epstein said, “The ideal almost everywhere is to seem young for as long as possible. The health clubs and endemic workout clothes, the enormous increase in cosmetic surgery (for women and men), the special youth-oriented television programming and moviemaking, all these are merely the more obvious signs of the triumph of youth culture.
When I say youth culture, I do not mean merely that the young today are transcendent, the group most admired among the various age groups in American society, but that youth is no longer viewed as a transitory state, through which one passes on the way from childhood to adulthood, but an aspiration, a vaunted condition in which, if one can only arrange it, to settle in perpetuity.”
Epstein traces this movement back to the publishing of “Catcher in the Rye” in the 1950s and the movements that followed, leading into the election of the youthful John F. Kennedy.
Again, youth is not a bad thing in itself. It’s the worship of youth that leads to trouble.
Epstein talks about it in more modern terms, including the collapse of Enron. “’The trouble with Enron,’ said an employee of the company in the aftermath of that corporation’s appalling debacle, ‘is that there weren’t any grown-ups.’”
What do we do about it?
- Revere our elders. We need grown-ups in charge. We need them in business. We need them in government. We need them in the church. The Bible says, “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:2-8).
- Seek mentors. As a young adult, I want to be mentored by grown-ups. I want to learn from their wisdom and have my character shaped. I found that many of them were edified in the process. In the years that followed, I have been blessed to work and live around many exemplary grown-ups—both spiritually and emotionally. As Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has said, in church life, the 27-year-old needs the 72-year-old, and the 72-year-old needs the 27-year-old.
- Don’t fear growing old. If your hair is turning grey and you are starting to age, don’t feel like you have to look young and act young to matter. As you are growing older, revere it don’t fear it. God gives us grown-ups for our own good.
In the end, we all—kids and adults alike—are better off when we act our own age.