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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Scarring the Innocent

"Innocence most often is a good fortune and not a virtue."
-Anatole France

At first, this quote seems trivial and worthy of little contemplation. Yet, when we think of innocence as it relates to naivete and the charge for society to protect gullible youth from the snares of cunning and deceit, we can see the reality of the French writer's words. Today, as moral excellence and conformity to a common standard of right matter less than a rush to maturity, children are subject to too much inescapable offensive exposure.

We parents "wish" and "pray" our children will experience innocence instead of assuring them access to an environment that actively guards their fragility. We seem content to teach them some limited form of family values, warn them of what we conceive to be the most prevalent dangers, then release them as "young adults" into a razor-sharp world.

The obstacles and temptations our children encounter often overwhelm their immature brains and wrack their developing bodies. They pay dearly as parents prematurely jettison them into perilous situations.

How could innocence flourish in the real world of today? Now, most children who maintain healthy, long-established traits of innocence do so in spite of overwhelming odds. They somehow become the recipients of outstanding good fortune despite the tremendous forces against incorruptibility.
Isn't it time for us to fix the world and recreate conditions necessary to allow innocence to return?

I know. At this point, many readers are reciting this old litany: "Buddy, you can't bring back the past. Snap out of your fantasy world."

And then, even more of you are preaching: "You can't change the world. Only a fool would believe that we can successfully "put the Genie back into the bottle."

So, good friends, I believe it is time for the second quote of this entry. Here it is...

"Experience, which destroys innocence,
also leads one back to it."
-James Baldwin

A psychologist may tell us that innocence refers to a state of unknowing, where "one's experience is lesser, in either a relative view to social peers, or by an absolute comparison to a more common normative scale."

("Innocence," Dictionary of Psychology, 2010)

As we grow, all innocents learn from experience. This is one important way humans form vital understandings. Some of what we learn from experience reinforces our innocent nature while some of what we learn from experience causes us to modify our beliefs and our values of innocence. To me, this process of forming understandings is best when new experiences occur gradually and reasonably.

Without a doubt, our experiences can lead, and usually do lead, to the end of "child-like" innocence. Yet, somewhere along the way as our experiences threaten to destroy completely our faith in purity, most of us realize that maturity and time allow us to make this transformation from innocence to "knowing" with less risk and less evil consequence.

Unfortunately, today, many parents are more than willing to rush their children through puberty and young adulthood with little attention to the value of innocence. They honestly believe by loading their children with increasingly "adult" attitudes and behaviors, they are preparing them to compete and to survive in a jungle that rolls by "survival of the fittest." I think these parents expect their children to handle emotions and logical decisions that most simply are incapable of controlling.

Under most laws, young people are recognized as adults at age 18. But emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don't reach full maturity until the age 25. Research confirms that teenagers' brains are only about 80 percent fully developed and that brain development isn't complete until people reach their 20s or even 30s—more than a decade later than experts had originally thought. 

(Erin Graham, "The Teenage Brain," DreamOnline, Children's Hospital Boston, 2008)

So, even though as Baldwin says "experience destroys innocence," experience also leads us back to understanding the value of an innocent transformation into adulthood -- a transformation that must include proactive measures, considerable counsel and interaction, guarded and carefully planned experiences, and continual extended open conversations.

It is time we view innocence as a positive term once more. In terms of fashion, dating, relationships, sexual experience, school preparation, independence, body adornment, athleticism, group interactions -- I believe we have a lot of work to do to bring innocence back into popularity. We must begin to do this ourselves by showing our appreciation of innocence to our own children and grandchildren. Then, we must also encourage changes in popular culture with our active participation in groups and government organizations that work for reform.

Little Sis does not need to be a beauty queen or a trashy object of sensual attraction. Junior does not need to be a bad ass or a thug. These children are dependent, and since they are, they are dependent upon us to break the molds Madison Avenue, MTV, and Hollywood make for the promise of their popularity and acceptance.

You say it's too late to bring back such a fantasy? Hold a newborn in your arms and take a long, hard look at the wonderful creation. You will be caught in the delight and the charm of the child's total innocence. Let that experience lead you back... back to instilling dreams of purity. Or, you can merely rely upon the fate of good fortune to insure what happens to the babe.
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