Commentary: What’s wrong with letting a child just enjoy childhood?


Cleaning out my sock drawer, I came across a letter our younger daughter, Marcia, had given me years ago. I don’t know why I put the letter in my sock drawer. Most of that space is reserved for socks that have no mates.

 Anyway, I came across this letter I had not read since 1982. I read it again. And I laughed again.

 The letter was written by a seventh grader who lived in Jamaica. She was hoping our daughter would be her pen pal. Here are a few excerpts:

 “My desire is to know more about life and the traditional customs of foreign countries and I believe that by corresponding, new friends, new experiences and new horizons will surely come my way for all the cost of a little friendship and a little fantasy. Before I go further, let me introduce myself to you. First, I am an ambitious, intelligent, attractive, dedicated and generous girl. …

 “I’m now sailing on the ship of ambition hoping to anchor in the shore of success. … Please give my love to your beloved family for me and stay as sweet as you are. …”

 Remember, now, our daughter had never laid eyes on this girl. And she never wrote back. At the time, Marcia was not sailing the ship of ambition hoping to anchor in the shore of success. She was a 12-year-old girl who was still three years away from getting her learner’s license. And she didn’t need some pubescent pen pal who already had it all together.

 But did the girl really have it all together? I’m not a child psychologist, thank goodness, but if I had to guess about this young Jamaican, I’d say no. I imagine she is very lonely, or under tremendous pressure from her parents or guardians to excel in everything she does, or she’s both. She probably has not enjoyed her childhood, and that’s sad.

 What’s wrong with letting a child be a child? Why are we compelled to begin grooming a child for adulthood — maybe even a career — before he or she is through playing in the sandbox?

 I read some time ago that stores now sell “kiddie cosmetics”—rouge, lipstick, eye shadow and mascara—for “little ladies as young as 5.”

 Pardon my backwardness, but a 5-year-old is a child. Sure, little girls play house—or they used to—and put on their mamas’ lipstick and eye shadow. But when the mamas go out and buy this stuff for the kids, things are getting a bit rushed, it seems to me.

 And then you have the parents who want so much for their children to excel in athletics, and they yell at the coach and glare at their kids when something goes wrong. But that’s another column.

Of course, I could be wrong about this kid from Jamaica. She really could be ambitious, intelligent, attractive, dedicated and generous and sailing on the ship of ambition.

If so, she needed to find a new pen pal. Marcia wasn’t interested.

Phil Hudgins is a retired newspaper editor and author from Gainesville, Ga.. Reach him at