It's Not Our Children's Job To Save The World
As a child, there were many times I didn’t have money for lunch. I was in elementary school and way too young to get a job, so I felt locked into my struggle. I couldn’t ask my mom because I knew she was already under enough pressure and I was afraid that she just didn’t have it. I didn’t want to ask my aunt because she was already doing more than enough by giving me a place to live to go to school.
So I did what plenty of kids do when they can’t get a job but had no one to ask. I’d steal $2.50 worth of change so I could eat. And to this day I still feel horrible about it.
These days not having enough money for school meals can come with even more consequences than hunger. Now, those stomachaches come with student lunch debt for the kid and often the parent.
Plenty of people, like 9-year-old Ryan Kyote from Napa, California have an issue with that. Kyote saved up his allowance to pay off the debt for his third grade class. I’m sure the gesture made his mother proud. Headlines everywhere were talking about the warm-hearted third-grader who’s already developed a sense of fairness as such a young age.
I couldn’t help but feel like the conversation was missing something.
The feeling that something was missing resurfaced for me once I read of three-year-old Ava Lewis who started her own lemonade company with her mother so she could buy diapers and wipes for moms and babies in need.
And then there’s Mari “Little Miss Flint” Copeny, the 11-year-old activist, who’s been on the ground working to bring water to the resident of Flint, Michigan for years.
It was great to hear of someone so young whose moral compass motivated them to be the change they want to see in the world. But the knee-jerk reaction is how are children so young moved to change the world? It’s impossible not to be proud that the next generation of folks set to inherit the world has already started making an impact.
But that joy and pride should come with a deep underlying sense of shame. Why? Because children shouldn’t be expected to spend their childhoods trying to solve the world’s issues. They should be allowed to be children. They shouldn’t be expected to save the world.
Growing up poor changed something in me. It forced me to feel like a criminal. It made me responsible for myself in ways that children my age typically weren’t, and it led to a very unhealthy attachment to money.
And I was only responsible for myself. The kids, while doing admirable, noteworthy things, are taking on the responsibility of hundreds — if not thousands. And it can’t be good for them.
I’m curious what it is that allows these children to see areas of systemic inequity and injustice and compels them to move while adults and billionaires all over the United States are unfazed by the struggles of the world.
As we applaud the parents of those well-rounded children, we need to shake our fingers in disapproval of the world we live in in which a child as young as three are tasked with the challenge of bringing resources to mothers in need. Particularly while the government and nonprofit industrial complex see themselves absolved from responsibility.
One could argue it’s as disgusting as it is awe-inspiring.
A young boy shouldn’t be using his personal money to pay off school debt in a nation where everyone should have access to free lunch. It’s especially frustrating considering that as many as 75% of school districts have some form of lunch debt program. And some fear it can be used as a tool to block graduation.
Our youth are inheriting not only a dying world, but a failing economic system and interpersonal chaos. Is it really necessary for them to start work on this as early as possible? Especially as two generations are sitting by doing nothing but making the journey to progress more arduous?
The number of “heartwarming” tales of children raising money or doing grand gestures to change the world shouldn’t be happening.
There’s nothing wrong with raising kind and caring children who have dreams of equity and equality. One might even suggest that these efforts are reflective of good modeling on their parents’ behalf.
But childhood should be a period of mistakes, joy, and simplicity.
Children shouldn’t be forced into maturity. They shouldn’t have to try to solve food scarcity on top of learning algebra.
There’s no shortage of developmental milestones taking place between childhood and adolescence. Coming into oneself and all the interpersonal decisions that accompany these changes will only be made worse by placing the weight of the world on our children’s shoulders.
I was that kid who wanted to change the world – and still do – but that desire has come with several mental and physical health consequences and a healthy serving of existential crisis.
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the efforts of children. But I’m sick of seeing children’s efforts being celebrated as inspiration porn without putting the burden on adults to do more. Our children are great. They’re doing wonderful things. Still, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for inaction on our part.
If we are truly inspired by our youth, we need to be compelled to act on their behalf.
Allowing our children to stand at the front lines of change normalizes global poverty and the mistreatment of children, like those who are having their lives wrecked due to citizenship status as we speak. It feels like it makes the responsible for fighting for better lives for themselves. And while admirable, it ain’t right.
We’ve let our children down. To protect them, we’ve got to light the fire under our own asses and show them that we’re not okay with what is.
Yes, our children should be aware of the struggles surrounding us. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of their childhood.
Many of our parents participated in the rape of the world and resources and are sitting by idly as we race the clock to stop the death of our earth. Our attachment to the old ways, like the fossil fuel industry, are making things worse.
In a way, we’re expecting a few mature kids to make a widescale change while we’re undoing all their efforts and destroying the world.
I don’t want to fail our children as our parents have failed us. We owe it to them to step up. They can’t do this alone.
And we’re running out of time.
This article was originally published on