Precocious as a Lifestyle
So you have this little tike and you have noticed consistently that if you say words like, escalator, and the little one repeats it back like nobody’s business. Then if you bring out your picture book of dinosaurs, the little genius can gobble this stuff up and repeat it back to you with only a single viewing. So you ask yourself if you could say Iychtiathorousus through your own Flintstones-addled brain when you were that age? Well, er, uh, it is hard to say because your first really concrete memory, except for being mad at a third grader who took your lunchbox was your high school prom. Nonetheless, there is part of you that feels that since you know this little prodigy is soooo amazing it is your obligation to make the “brilliante’ enfant” into something special. What to do?
The word, “precocious,” that we generally apply to the irritating kids in family television shows, means to develop early. It comes from a Latin term for plants or cooking, no kidding, like “cooked too soon” or “to be ready early,” like fast food. Precocious is a word for when other people’s kids interrupt dinner and look alarmingly like Jon Binet Ramsey. While I have read any number of books on this topic I always feel that language means what we use it to mean. So “precocious” is a good thing only if you are the grand parent of the darling little nymph. I will use the distinction between this word and the word “prodigy” to draw a separate comparison. The way a child looks and behaves socially, is a different thing from the behavior of memorizing the paleontological names of course. But it is easy to confuse these would-be endearing or disturbing qualities.
Before talking about the “brainy” or “cognitive” aspects of the average wunderkind, let me just share my bias about appearances and social maturation. Childhood is no longer the idyllic place of playing in cornfields in overalls with Tom and Huck, and little scamps white washing fences. Of course, I only know of those ideal days through seeing the movie of it on TV while staying home by myself because my mom had to work Saturdays at the beauty shop. Nope childhood is now not the realm of children at all. What happened, while we were all watching, was that kids stopped hanging out with just kids. While I do not believe in a mythic and better past for all youngsters, I see clearly, that kids used to be sent out of the room to play with other kids. There was no television programming made to “sell to kids” in the slick and (I am tempted to use the word “insidious” here) clever fashion it is today.
Now when young Judy goes off with her friends they might play in a room with the TV as wallpaper and in the background are seeing/hearing all the ads for all the stuff for the teens and for the college age kids etc. They are not being spoken to by other kids so much as by a group of really sad, and desperate fresh-out-of-college writers, who may or may not care about society in general, much less about a bunch of kids. They are just trying to sell product and keep the attention of the Adderall set. Think of a young Paul Reubens or the parents of Britney Spears and whatever the name of her sister is, or Miley-marketing-machine Cyrus, and how they troubled over whether this or that was appropriate for youngsters. The only questions seem to go to the concepts of marketing and monetizing.
This brings me back around to point one. Precocious is not a unique state for kids. They are all “done too early” these days. They are given little choice. Kids are wearing clothes to imply that they are what they see. In theory, parents are in charge of these costume acquisitions, and whether or not we know it they are still playing, and pretending and doing all of the stuff that they are programmed to do, we just have to be aware that they have all of these adults whispering things to them through the media all of the time, and most of these things have to do with buying stuff and growing up too fast. Even if you are the kind of parent who actually knows how to program your Tivo for parental control, the kids are still embedded in this culture.
If a kid is five it may seem clever and charming for them to act 13. But if you encourage this it will not be nearly so charming when they are 13 and are acting like “College Sophomores Going Wild at Mardis Gras.” When it comes to being precocious, it is rarely about being little Shirley Temples but like little Lindsey Lohan. Humans become sentient at around three or four-years old. Before this you exist, but it’s like being asleep at a movie. Then they have till sixteen or so to still be children, and honestly that is more like thirteen or fourteen for most kids. To my mind this all very sad. It is not the secularization of society, that I will cover later, but it is the truly beautiful stuff that makes childhood a time without the kind of worries that unsettle the balance of our lives. A person can argue that life has always been tough, and that it is way easier now, and I will not dispute that. Still, I feel that it is vital to protect the handful of years that kids have to actually know less of the sad, competitive and sordid. This is not about being smarter earlier, this is about some other human value, that allows kids to be kids as long as they can.