Being a kid is hard. In some ways, it’s more difficult than being an adult. So many rules, so many expectations, so many people pulling you in so many different directions. All the while, you’re trying to find yourself, trying to establish what and who you are, trying to enjoy your fleeting youth without being wholly aware that is is slipping away faster than you could ever fathom.
As adults, we are blessed and cursed with the gift of perspective. We see the mistakes we’ve made as lessons learned. Our selective memories cast the worst times of our lives into the darkness of our psyches while shining a rosy spotlight on the happiest of moments. And we secretly desire to be living as we were then, filled with excitement and joy, anger and fear, and a sense of wonder at the possibilities of life.
They say youth is wasted on the young. I see it differently. Too many of us, as parents, use our “gift of perspective” to manipulate and mold our children into what we want them — or, more accurately, what we wanted ourselves — to be. This is unfair to the kids. And it’s unfair to us. Youth is about frivolity, experimentation and recklessness. Some of us don’t survive — literally. But most of us do, and too quickly we forget what it meant to be reckless and frivolous and … happy.
So, as George Carlin suggests: Do your kids a favor. Nurture them, help them when they need it, be there for them at every turn, but, for the most part, “leave them the fuck alone.”
And, when you find yourself at a loss for something to say to them when they ask the big life questions, play these four songs for them instead.
1. Oh Very Young – Cat Stevens
Damn this guy could write songs, and this one captures the fleeting nature of our childhoods — and ultimately the fleeting nature of our very lives. Subtly, as was Stevens’ wont, he asks if we will, as we grow, do good things, making the best of what we have and searching for the best in others. Because dammit, it’s all going away, and sooner than we can ever imagine. For some, this is a depressing notion, that death is but a breath away. But for those engaged in the act of living, fully invested and willing to be here, now, it is an inspiration. With “Oh Very Young,” Cat Stevens cleverly asks questions without answering them. That is for you, the young to decide.
2. Oh Lord – Foxy Shazam
This wonderful song is a letter from dad to son. It pulls no punches about the brutality of living — right from the beginning. “Julian, it’s a hungry world/They’re gonna eat you alive, son, yeah/Oh Julian/ When their fangs sink in/ I’ll stitch you but then I gotta throw you back in.” It’s a full-on, no-BS message from a lion to his cub. But it comes with one important clarification: I may send you back out into the melee of life, but when you feel alone, lost and troubled, I am always here for you. Always.
3. At Seventeen
Talk about brutal. Janis Ian captures every painful moment of a young girl’s life in four-and-a-half minutes. As parents of young girls –and young boys, too — this song should scare the living daylights out of us. When we were young, going through it, it seemed devastating enough. Ugly, gangly, lacking in “social graces,” we dorks and dweebs were cast into a daily inferno, fanned by an undisturbed hierarchy topped by jocks and prom queens. But as adults, soaking up the lyrics and the lilting melody of Ian’s passionate lament, we should feel the chill. We will watch our children suffer the indignities of being an adolescent who, no matter how beautiful, rich or popular, will never feel “good enough.” And we can do very little to stop it.
4. These Precious Things – Tori Amos
A blurry update on Ian’s classic, “These Precious Things” is a more graphic account of a young girl’s sprint to escape the ugliness of being … a young girl. Sex is a terrifying and exhilarating notion for an adolescent. But the reality of it is much more weighty, bringing with it real and imaginary monsters. Any young girl listening to this song can relate to the immobilizing anxiety Amos experienced. And a young boy can take a lesson on how to treat his female contemporaries. Moms and dads can simply sit back in wide-eyed terror of what their children are about to endure.