Our obsession with youthfulness and childlike behavior has probably enabled more of us to enjoy life and find pleasure in simpler things. The downside is that we tend to disparage old age.
Despite all the growing pains and hard lessons of youth, being young is fun. As we become older, we remember more of the fun and less of the painful times. Apparently, we’re somehow programmed to put a good spin on our youth. At least, most of us do.
I have mixed feelings about middle-aged folks wearing superhero themed tee-shirts and collecting comic books. These are fairly harmless activities that don’t hurt anyone. I’m a huge advocate for personal freedom, but sometimes I wince when I witness people acting out their childhood. I cannot point fingers without pointing back to some of my own quirks. I have a small teddy bear collection that I’m in the process of downsizing. There’s probably some sort of psychological message in that.
It makes sense that we focus so much social attention on youth. Younger people are a huge market for our retail corporations. Parents love to lavish attention on their kids. Teens have their own subcultures, and young adults are in the process of starting their own families. This translates into a perpetual gold rush for business. Naturally, we’re going to be exposed to plenty of advertising and products aimed at youth.
Add to this, the fact that all of us are destined to get old. We look in the mirror and notice that we don’t look like glowing, pretty adolescents anymore. Even though we have grown-up responsibilities in our families and our work, we want to keep a young appearance. Getting old and dying is scary. This is not new information.
By and large, if someone tells us that we don’t look as old as our chronological age, we receive it as a compliment. On the other hand, if someone says, “he doesn’t act his age”, we know that is a jab at somebody’s character.
Where is that fuzzy boundary between childishness and maturity? Why is it that little kids can hardly wait to grow up, but once grown up, the resulting adults wish they were kids again? Maybe we know this in our hearts, but find it difficult to translate it into words. Youth is the driving force behind nostalgia. It’s why we don’t like to give up the music of our youth. It’s why some of us drive replica muscle cars. It’s why some of us dress up like Batman. It’s why we buy wrinkle creams and dietary supplements.
Childishness becomes a problem when it manifests as interpersonal behavior in adults.
We know about the “terrible twos”, the toddlers who scream with temper tantrums because they think they deserve to get their own way all of the time. These little kids hurl abuse at anybody who thwarts their desires. When the terrible twos appear in grown ups, we have real trouble. Temper and entitledness show up as verbal and physical abuse in adults. This is most serious when our business and political leaders indulge these childish traits. This can set the tone for society, at large.
Little kids are infamous for being selfish. Some kids don’t play well with other kids. They hog all the good stuff for themselves and are reluctant to allow even scraps for their peers. These little kids consider it an imposition when other kids receive an equal share of nice toys and treats. Selfish children are unhappy because they believe that they are losing favor. Oftentimes, first-born children become upset when a new sibling arrives in the home. The first-born no longer is the focus of parental attention. This type of childishness in adults manifests in the “one-percent” as well as people who oppose universal civil rights.
Closely related to the selfish brats are the children who coalesce into cliques. These exclusive groups decide that they’re the special “insiders”. They limit membership privileges to just the few “special” individuals such as themselves. We see this type of behavior in high schools. Unfortunately it carries on, later in life, for too many of us, as the “chosen ones”.
Children and many teens are attention junkies. Generally speaking, they crave adulation. When adults remain attention junkies, we find them annoying and rather pathetic. Certainly, we all have a healthy desire to be recognized for our accomplishments. All of us deserve respect and well-earned praise. It’s when a person refuses to share the limelight that childishness manifests. We’ve all had to endure people who go on and on about their problems and illnesses. Some attention junkies believe we can hardly wait to hear them brag about their latest accomplishments or those of their kids. Self-absorbtion is one of those childish habits that is hard to break.
Perhaps the most troubling childish behavior is whining and complaining. I realize that I’m skirting the boundaries of this trait as I write this post. However, the chronic crybaby is a different matter. This type of childishness manifests as consistent naysaying. There is a lot of finger-pointing, blaming, and scapegoating. Whiners don’t like to take personal responsibility when events and people don’t conform to their preferences. It’s easier to gripe about what’s wrong rather than to affirm what is right about other people. Talk radio and cable “news” is brimming over with people who blame and complain. Gloom and doom is the message of crybabies who preach their negative beliefs.
It’s easy to pinpoint childish behavior as it occurs in other people. The grown-up practice is to look within to see how these childish traits appear in one’s own lifestyle. If we’re honest, we can see many, if not all, of these aspects present in ourselves, to some extent. As I acknowledge my own childish behavior, I can take a slice of humble pie. Without indulging in self-condemnation, I can self-correct my childish behavior.
It’s wonderful to have a youthful attitude and approach towards life and one’s fellow humans. It’s annoying to others to retain childish thinking and misbehavior. It is possible to have too many teddy bears.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Janet Jackson. “A lot of people who start work at a very young age never grow up because they never got the opportunity to be a child, so they hold on to that and still do a lot of childish, silly things.”