How young is too young?

How young is too young?  Or put another way, what is the appropriate age for children to…..fill in the blank. As parents we were always debating these questions. To walk to a friend’s house by themselves; to ride their bike in the neighborhood alone; to cross the street; to see PG-13 movies; to wear make-up or get their ears pierced. So many decisions. There are no hard and fast rules, nor should there be.

My parents were permissive in this regard. I’ve touched on this before on my blog. I saw violent movies when I was quite young. I was allowed to read anything I wanted – I don’t recall ever being told to make a different choice when I went to the library with them or if I picked up a book that my older brother was reading. The only time my reading was limited was when I went to check out The Grapes of Wrath when I was in elementary school and the librarian told me it wasn’t appropriate. I vaguely remember arguing with her briefly before giving up.

Some of those parenting decisions are influenced by where you live and what the norms are in the area. Certainly, growing up in New York City is different than growing up in suburban Albany where my children were raised. Of course, technology has changed things, too. Our kids were in middle school before some of the social media issues started to emerge.

Generally, Gary and I were on the same page with these decisions. We agreed that our children would not have a television or computer in their bedroom (this was before laptops, i-pads or smart phones; they were in high school before that became an issue). We wouldn’t buy Eminem’s CD for Dan (he was ten when the Slim Shady LP came out), no matter how much he begged. We knew he heard the music at friends’ houses, but we wanted to be clear that we weren’t sanctioning it. It wasn’t the language we were concerned about, it was the misogyny and casual treatment of sex and violence.

We may have made some errors in judgment, but at least we made them together! One example of what may have been poor decision-making involved Daniel. Daniel was born with a certain skepticism. He never bought into fairies or magical thinking. He was on to the fact that we left money under his pillow when he lost a tooth; he never went for the idea of a tooth fairy. Though it wasn’t part of our tradition, he never believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny either. Out of respect for friends, family and neighbors, we never taught our children that there wasn’t a Santa, we simply told them that we didn’t celebrate those holidays. Unfortunately, Dan came to his own conclusion before some of our friends’ children and he shared his ideas (not to be cruel, he thought they already knew). That led to some awkwardness.

Knowing that his skepticism led him to have a mature sense of humor at a young age, we let him watch a George Carlin HBO Special when he was ten or eleven. I knew the humor would appeal to him and it did. But, I think it was too much too soon. In retrospect, we should have encouraged more innocent comedy. I don’t think it helped Dan’s anxiety level to hear Carlin’s cynicism and biting observations so young, even if we all laughed and appreciated his skewering of the establishment.

Though we were almost always in agreement in our parenting decisions, there was one specific time that Gary and I were not on the same page. We had agreed that we would not pierce Leah’s ears as a baby. We wanted it to be her decision. By the time Leah was eight, she was asking to get earrings. Dan was born skeptical; Leah was born headstrong. She was quite persistent. I explained that she needed to be more mature so that she would follow the instructions for the care of her ear lobes and to be sure that it wasn’t a passing fancy. That explanation bought me some time, but by the time she was ten, she was convinced that she was ready. I thought she probably was; Gary didn’t.

One evening we were at the mall. Leah was nearing 12 at this point and I had been putting her off in terms of the earrings. Dan and Gary went to look for something while Leah and I went in another direction. We agreed to meet up at a certain time. As Leah and I were walking, we passed a kiosk that offered ear piercing. Leah stopped and asked me again. I took a deep breath and made an executive decision that she was mature enough. The woman did it quickly, with a minimum of fuss. Leah handled the pain without much reaction. She was proud of herself and excited.

We met back up with the boys. When Leah showed Gary the small gold posts in her ear lobes, he was furious. I hadn’t expected such an extreme reaction. When Gary is angry, he retreats; his silence is more penetrating than harsh words. At first, he was mad at Leah too, but he let go of that in a reasonable amount of time. Most of his fury was reserved for me. He may not be over it yet (20 years later).

Looking back at it, if that was the worst of our differences in parenting styles, that’s pretty damn good. That isn’t to say we didn’t have other arguments, but at least not about those issues.

It will be interesting to watch the next generation navigate their parenting path.

8 thoughts on “How young is too young?

  1. 1. Leah is still too young to have pierced ears.

    2. The music cd story with dan makes me recall that when Josh was around the same age as Dan there was a cd with very nasty language. I took it away from him and told him when he is older I will return it. 25 years later when cleaning out a drawer I found the CD and returned it to Josh. What I find amusing was that after I returned it to him; a bemused Josh told me that he does not need it; as after I took it away from him he went to the record store (remember those) and purchased another copy. So much for my effective parental oversight.

    But I am with you Linda… looking forward to how the next generation addressed their issues.

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  2. In retrospect most of my decisions would get me arrested today. I allowed them to play in the street and was lucky they were not hurt. I thought as I taught them to look both ways they could take care of themselves however they went to school without me In kindergarten and first grade to parents telling me their boys wanted to be allowed. I said they have been doing it since three and four. Putting Mark on a branch of a tree because he always had trouble falling asleep and I didn’t want him to wake Steven. I coul go on but we were lucky to have Barry be the Jewish Mother insisting they wear their hats and jackets when it was cold etc. I could go on but we were lucky they grew up so well. And I am proud of their ability to do better with their children

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  3. You can’t know how much this piece hit home for me as well. I begged my Dad to sign the permission slip at Earring Tree every time we went to the Mall. He refused, saying I already had enough jokes in my head, an explanation that totally made no sense, then or now. I actually had to wait until my 18th Birthday to get my ears pierced, as I was unwilling to let a friend do it or use “sleepers.”
    So funny that you mentioned the music Dan listened to. At 12, Jake loved Eminem. I remember as a kid the raciest lyrics we ever heard were the Rolling Stones’ Bitch or Jim Morrison’s rap in the Doors’ The End. I took the opposite tactic with Jake, knowing he would find a way to listen to Eminem’s music one way or the other. So I bought him a book. I copied some of the lyrics to his music. We had endless discussions about his life and relationships, how writing those songs was how he could express his anger. I took the opportunity to remind Jake that birth is like a lottery, some win and some lose, and no matter how much money Eminem has in his bank account, his relationships with family members are probably damaged beyond repair, and he would probably give anything to have what you have. Jake did a book report on him and got an A.
    As for differences of opinion regarding parenting decisions, we’ll have to make a plan to meet for lunch! Great food for thought today.

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  4. I am entirely over the ear piercing. I feel, that Leah is now old enough to make that decision and to have pierced ears. But I do agree that the many decisions were challenging and that we probably didn’t get all of them right. I particularly remember the issue of letting the kids go down to the creek and play. We had rules; there had to be a buddy with them. But we thought kids should play at the creek and get dirty. They should explore and have fun.
    I believe that was a good decision. I certainly think it worked out well. But I also think we were young and not nearly as experienced and we would now probably make some different choices.
    Thank you for the outstanding blog post.

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    1. I am pleased and relieved to learn that you have gotten over it! Excellent. I agree that there may be some things we would have done differently, knowing what we know now. But we have been blessed with fabulous children 🙂

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