Author Edith Wharton wrote in her autobiography that her book The Age of Innocence allowed her to find a momentary escape in going back to her childish memories of a long-vanished America.
The Age of Innocence was published in 1920. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 and established Wharton as the American “First Lady of Letters.” She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Fast forward a hundred years and there is even more reason today to mourn the loss of the age of innocence in America. Especially for children. With the way the world is today, it is a challenge to give children the years of innocence that allow them to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood.
My dad was born in 1922, one year after Wharton won her Pulitzer. He would be 100 years old on January 8 if he hadn’t passed away in 2020. When my son was born my dad was almost 61, and I knew right away I wanted to give my son opportunities to do things with his grandfather and build memories that he would always cherish.
A boy and his grandpa; even the words conjure up an age of innocence, like a Norman Rockwell painting.
My dad taught my son to ride a bicycle; then biked with him on summer rides through the countryside. Even in his 70s and 80s my dad still took pleasure in doing child-like things. He took my son camping. They played games, went out for ice cream, went to local carnivals and enjoyed their time together. Those summers helped prolong an age of innocence for my son and gave him memories of his grandfather that he’ll cherish forever.
Now my son is a dad, and I see him sharing those same kinds of experiences with his son. I see the love and pride in their eyes when they look at each other. My son also has a daughter and I know that special father/daughter bond will be there for them the same way it was for me and my dad. That’s what nurturing does; it gets passed down from generation to generation.
Today many children don’t even know their fathers, let alone their grandfathers. 18.3 million children are being raised by a single mother. That’s 25% of children living without a father, step father, grandfather or any father figure in their lives.
The National Fatherhood Initiative calls this “The Father Crisis.” These children don’t get to have an age of innocence. Statistics show alarming facts about children who grow up without fathers.
They are 4X greater at risk of living in poverty, 7X more likely to be abused or neglected and to use alcohol and drugs before adulthood. They are 2X more likely to drop out of school and are more likely to commit a crime and spend time in jail or prison.
Even for children living in a 2-parent household, it is a struggle to retain a sense of innocence.
Violence surrounds children in the U.S. Violent content in media is a recognized contributing factor to reduced empathy, increased confrontational and disruptive behavior, and antisocial behavior in children.
Kids love super hero movies based on comic book characters. Supposedly these movies show the triumph of good over evil, but they are packed from beginning to end with fighting, violence, murder, maliciousness, and vengeance. Those are the take-aways.
Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999 nearly 300,000 students have personally experienced gun violence at school. In 2021 there were 149 incidents of gunfire at schools. 28 of those resulted in deaths.
1 in 5 students is bullied in school each year. Bullying is vicious. It is verbal, physical, and social violence at a very personal level. Kids are bullied because of their race, religion, sexuality, physical appearance, gender, disabilities or handicaps, ethnicity, and economic status. Students who are repeatedly bullied, with no adult or peer intervention, can be emotionally damaged for life.
Most of us have children in our lives. They’re our children, step children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or kids and teens in the neighborhood. There are things each of us can do to help give them some childhood innocence so they can transition to an age of independence in a positive way.
Eliminate their exposure to violent content in media and games and encourage them to enjoy more healthy activities. Spend time with them in a nurturing way that makes them feel valued. Watch for signs of withdrawal, wariness, anger, or insolence that may indicate something is wrong.
Praise them for their accomplishments. Be patient with them as they learn new things. Encourage and teach good behavior. Don’t belittle them or yell at them. Yelling at children teaches them that anger is an acceptable way to react to things. Don’t set bad examples. Show children respect. Respect them physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
Children are the future. But what will that future be like if we don’t nurture and take care of children now? Make time for the children in your life. Time is the most valuable gift you can give them. Show them you care. Make them feel safe.
“A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.”Erma Bombeck
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