The ‘real world’

Apparently, children live in some fake world that is just a practice for the ‘real world’. Did you know this?

I hear people say “they need to learn to do this now so they can cope when they get into the real world” or “they won’t be able to do this in the real world” or “you won’t be around to cover for them once they’re in the real world”.

This baffles me. Don’t children live in the same world we do?

I think what they really mean is that they will have to learn to do stuff for when they are adults, for when they have adult relationships and work. But that ‘world’ isn’t a different world. There’s still all the same things in it that are in the non-adult world. There’s still rules, socialising, demands, structure, etc. We still eat, poo and sleep the same.

I don’t think people realise just how similar the world of childhood is to adulthood. Yes there are many important differences, but in essence, the only difference that matters is the maturity of the individual. In fact, if anything, the adult world is a lot easier than the world of children. We have more say in what happens to us, we have more choice and our decisions are more respected.

I think people forget just how hard it can be to be a child. It doesn’t help when people feel the need to teach them everything they will ever need to know for the next (hopefully) 80+ years in less than 18. It doesn’t help when people underestimate children’s abilities and understanding. It doesn’t help when people force children to do things they don’t want to and that could be harmful to them, where they don’t get to say ‘no’ and have that decision respected. It doesn’t help when children are seen as less/inferior/stupid.

Children live in the same world we do, so why do so many believe the world only becomes real once you are an adult? This is even further baffling when you consider that different cultures believe children become adults at different ages. Here in the UK a child is an adult once they reach 18, in America it’s 21, in Japan it’s 20. Some say adulthood begins with puberty, if that’s true then we have some adults at the age of 12 and others at 16. I didn’t know the ‘real world’ could suddenly, magically appear at a certain age!

So no, our children don’t live in some fake world that only becomes real at a certain age, the world they are living in now is exactly the same as the one us adults are living in. There’s only one world!

It can be harmful to believe our children are living in a different world to us. We may start to underestimate the impact of the things we do can have on children. We may start to forget that people learn at any age, there’s no cut off period for learning and growing. We never stop learning, even at the age of 99 we can still learn something new. Believing that we need to teach our children everything they need to know NOW! can put far too much pressure on them, what’s wrong with learning some skills later in life, even social skills. I for one am still learning new social skills. How many adults are still learning how to form relationships with friends, family and sexual partners? TV is filled with people skill learning how to manage relationships, it’s not something we can teach only in childhood.

So when people say that we need to teach our kids now because they need to learn this in preparation of living in the real world, I start to smell a rat. Why not teach them what they need to live in the world they are currently in, because that world isn’t any different from  the ‘real world’. What kids learn in school they will put to use in work, when they learn in family life they will use in family life, even it that’s with another family. What they learn from childhood friendships they will use for adult friendships. Those skill are transferable.

I hate it when people say things like “they won’t be able to get away with that in the real world”.

Firstly they are forgetting that people change as they age. Just because a child cannot cope with something doesn’t mean they will not cope as an adult. You don’t need to force that change on them early, it comes naturally in its own time.

Secondly, how do they know that they won’t ‘get away with it’ as an adult. I see many adults doing things that would be seen as bad if they were a child, yet the do these things as adults and get away with them. The rules seem to change as people get older, there’s more freedom, more choice, more allowance. Children are told off for swearing but adults are allowed to swear because they are adults. Children aren’t allowed to drink yet adults can to excess with only slight reprimand. Adults get to choose where they work but few children get to choose their school. Yes, there are some things that children can get away with which adults rarely do, but that is because they are children who haven’t learnt how to manage their emotions and actions yet. They should be allowed to have more leeway. Yet they seem to get more pressure on them to perform correctly when compared with adults.

Thirdly, how do you know they will ‘need’ to do these things when they are an adult? I hear many adults stating that children need to learn to look others in the eyes, that they need to learn to touch certain textures, that they need to eat different foods. How do these people know this? How do they know what job they will have as an adult that will require them to look people in the eye, how do they know that they will need to touch certain textures, how do they know they will need to eat different foods? Those are guesses, pure and simple. Not facts. I don’t use coppers because I can’t stand the smell, should I have been forced as a child to do so in case I needed to touch them as an adult? I think they are forgetting that some things can change. Just because a child struggles with something as a child doesn’t mean that they will still struggle as an adult. Our biology changes slightly as we go through puberty. Our sensory issues can change, our food preferences can change, our needs and wants can change. Heck, when I was a child I could go for weeks without washing, changing my clothes or brushing my teeth, now as an adult if I don’t do those things regularly I will feel yucky and dirty. No teaching was needed here.

I know not everyone is the same and some people will have certain things that are still a problem when they become adults, that they do need to do, but wouldn’t they have more ability and skills to manage those needs as adults than they would do as children? For a start it would at least be their choice.

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5 thoughts on “The ‘real world’

  1. A very enjoyable piece. I could not agree more. Its like there are 2 worlds, I think referring to NT and Autsitic and that the NTs call the ‘normal’ reality the real one, into which we must all comply and behave. For too long people have been asleep and following the herd in how to behave and what rules to follow and what methods to use to teach the young. If its all so great in the ‘real world’ why is it so messed up? What we need to be saying is, lets teach the NT world about our spectrum kids and learn to understand each other and adapt and also listen to the messages because there is always something to be learned. I hate that saying too. My mum used to say it all the time about my brother, “he cant live in dream world all the time, he still has to lie in the real world” Well, he grew up to a be creative, who does not have a traditional job, a nine to five just wouldn’t work for him. He has followed his needs and talents and he is very successful. Steve Jobs couldn’t get on with many people or keep regular hours, he worked at night when the team were asleep. look what he achieved. The world is the world, everything is real, its up to us to find ways to work with what suits us as individuals whilst not harming others. If we all followed our own calling, the ‘real world’ would not be so full of unhappy people. Great post, great point, I hope this message reaches people who are trying to fit round pegs in square holes. We all learn from each other until the day. Well done. x

  2. Hear hear! There’s nothing “real” about the 9-5, double-glazed, air-conditioned world we’ve come to accept as normal. If I had a pound for every time I was told to stop my eldest “tinkering” with music and get on with the things he’d need for a “real” job, he wouldn’t be a successful composer now, whose music is heard daily by millions of people, even if they never see his name. (He writes music for adverts & film trailers.) And yes, learning is life-long; I’m still laughing at the guys in PC World who nearly fell over when I asked their advice about something for my 90 y.o. mother’s iPad. They were incredulous that she should be using an iPad at all, never mind doing artistic things on it as well as ordering her groceries. How much of “education” as we currently know it is really about imposing narrow limits on people, rather than opening up new horizons in their minds?

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