As our kids enter middle school a seriousness descends on them. Anything associated with small children is “childish” and must be forsaken. As a stay at home parent who was present when friends were over, I noted that this opinion was flexible; it really only came out when peers were present. If alone in the house with younger siblings, the older kids laughed at kids’ shows just as frequently as the younger ones and sometimes their laughter was even louder. On occasion, they would forget themselves when a friend was over and pause for a moment when walking past the TV. I would smile as both tweens laughed along, then quickly got serious when they caught themselves, sometimes feigning a joke elsewhere and quickly moving on.
I was happy to discover that this disdain for all things deemed immature was short lived. In high school, their childhood friends resurfaced, sometimes on T-shirts and accessories. The few years they were verboten was enough distance to make the concept retro – a throwback to their younger days and such nostalgia was acceptable, sometimes even trendy.
Having four children over a ten year span meant an almost continuous parade of fictional characters moving in and out of popularity. However, I was still caught off guard by the enthusiasm of teens, who look and act grown up most of the time, suddenly transformed into their former charmingly childish selves.
While they still insisted that watching such shows or engaging in conversations about childhood objects was due to having younger siblings or having a babysitting job, the embarrassment about it was diminished. Catching them watching such shows alone was generally explained away: “It just came on the TV and I didn’t want to look for the remote.” (As a mom who used the same excuse on occasion, I was not going to argue that point.)
A few years ago, my niece read about Flat Stanley in school and as many classes do, sent Stanley to visit friends or family. He arrived at our house in December, and I got into the project wholeheartedly, even making a Facebook profile so that she and her mom could follow the adventures in real-time. Since it was the end of marching band season, Flat Stanley came with us to the band banquet and was a big hit. Several of the teens exclaimed “Oh, it’s Flat Stanley!” and the group posed for pictures with the paper doll.
I marveled at the fact that not only was the character recognized, but that so many were willing to publicly recognize it and that they did so as if it were a celebrity. I thought back to a few years before and wondered what the reaction would have been then. I suspect it would have been more embarrassment and poor Stanley would have been ignored.
I have seen this in other environments as well. A group of teens walking past a playground may comment on how much fun they had there when they were little. They may even stop and take a trip down the slide or a turn on the swings. Their words may be dismissive, but their faces show the joy and reduced stress in returning to a simpler time. Other examples are the resurgence in popularity of Pokémon and the number of older teens who willingly, almost eagerly, go to the movies to see what are traditionally thought of as kids’ films.
Teens are still working out who they are and have their insecurities, but most have more confidence than they do in the tween years. Revisiting childhood pleasures can be comforting; it reminds them of how far they have come. Reliving childhood memories can serve to remove teens from current stressors and brings them back to a happier, simpler time. Perhaps this is something we can learn from them.