168. The Good Ship Lollipop

There’s a certain image of children that doesn’t work for me. Some people seem to think of childhood as a time of innocence. They think adults have cornered the market on cynicism, cruelty, etc. I love children, but I disagree. I don’t believe in original sin, but I don’t think it takes long to catch on.
Much of what Hollywood has had to imply about children has reinforced the image of children as little angels. Shirley Temple movies, Walt Disney Productions, and many less-known vehicles for depicting children often reinforce what I consider this inaccurate view of children. I think it’s part of the reason some adults who hear some real children think there’s something extraordinarily wrong with, or at least precocious about these children.
There are many exceptions to this pattern. “The Black Stallion,” “Bad News Bears,” and a French movie I once saw, “Petit d’Argent” (Small Change), are three examples that come to mind. I suspect that the directors of these movies have known real children, and have watched them and listened to them.
Some children occasionally reinforce the illusions some adults have. A friend of mine remembers that when she was a child, and adults asked her to make a wish, she always said she wished for world peace. Knowing the reaction she probably got from some adults, I’ll bet she wasn’t often inspired to amend her wish and ask for a new bike instead. It’s not that children don’t want world peace, an end to human suffering, and all that. Those are fairly common hopes, and not just among children. When I hear children voice these dreams, I believe them. Many children and adults do hope that war, poverty, disease, pollution, and all the other parts of life that get in the way of pleasure will some day be eradicated from the face of the earth. But if that’s all we hear when we listen to children, we aren’t listening well enough. Children are real people, and no matter how much we try to envision them as little cherubs, they aren’t. Just as there are times when we’re thinking more about getting our cars inspected than about wiping out malaria, there are times when the sweet little kids are thinking about a new bike more than they’re thinking about world peace.

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