Remember when adults said “poky man” to children, and in a way that always made kids feel embarrassed or weirded out, or roll their eyes? And kids would respond “Gawwwd, it’s not ‘poky man’, it’s pokémon!” And adults would laugh and still continue to say “haha poky man!”
Why did adults do this when it was so clear what the actual pronunciation was? When children without hesitation corrected them? (Hint: It really is pokémon. There are even accents to help guide pronunciation.) I mean, I’m an adult now, and it’s not hard at all to say it properly.
But here’s why I think adults actually do things like this – and why it’s kind of an issue:
1) It feels uncomfortable as an adult to identify with/enjoy children’s interests, so adults ‘tease’ children about their interests – if an adult actually enjoyed Pokémon, they’d be ridiculous in their peer circle, so it’s easier to just say poky man, tease a child, and join other adults through the “oh my such silly children” chorus. Essentially, insecurity and cynicism, I’m learning, is a very adult trait, especially when confronted with the ease with which children accept the world to be wonderful – or the ease with which children seek happiness, wonder and delights.
2) Adults genuinely don’t really relate to children, but we also want to actively distance ourselves from children’s interests…because we’ve somehow confused “immature interests” with interests that appeal to children. Even the way we say “childish interests/that’s so childish” is something I’m reflecting on – and I do say it disparagingly in my every-day usage. But basically, saying “pokémon” correctly would mean you, the adult, would “care too much” as an adult about children’s interests.
3) Adults take a weird “curiosity” about children’s interests that’s usually not that genuine – when corrected, in my experience as a child, most adults continued to refer to pokémon as poky man, because they knew it bothered me, and found it amusing when I’d correct them about an interest of mine. They would then defend themselves by saying “Well, this is just how I say it/I’m out of touch/I’m curious! Tell me without being upset!” And the thing is, this is a really condescending response. And children know when they’re being condescended to. What the adult is actually saying is “Ok, I don’t care enough about your interest to actually bother understanding it/this is beneath me.”
4) It’s easy to make fun of a child’s interest, put it down, and disrespect it. If someone said the same thing about a book we liked, or a tv show you watched, or, ahem,for some of us: even a conceptual understanding of sexism/racism as “silly” we’re probably going to take it very seriously – but as we grow older we get used to this idea of our ego as taking precedence in situations. We fail to see how just as we have happiness, pride, and delight in things, so do other people, including small people, like children – and this is also a question of age-related power. As adults, we have much more influence on how children see the world, themselves, and their interests. Even casually condescending or putting down children is something children pick upon and internalize, so…
5) Our disparaging attitudes are not lost on children: everyone knows when they are being made fun of, or not taken seriously, including children – and it teaches everyone to be ashamed of their interests. And through this kind of behaviour, we teach children that as they get older, they get to make fun of/have power over people who are younger. Dangerously, we enforce this false equation that “age = correctness/ validation/ legitimacy/ disregard for the opinions and knowledge of those who are younger”. After all, if an adult doesn’t care about being corrected about the pronunciation of pokémon, why should a fourth grader have to care about being corrected by a second grader about anything? And even more dangerously, it teaches that second grader that they have no right to correct anyone in a position of higher authority – and that authority is stratified by age.
6) It’s a way adults cope with aging, and their envy of youth. The old “oh haha I’m so old and out of touch” is the lie we tell children while in the same breath we disparage their interests. Adults, in general, don’t give a shit about being out of touch with a child’s interests (even if we are horribly out of touch with new ideas, new ways of thinking about the world, and even if we are turning into dinosaurs with little social or political relevance.) But a child’s experience is fundamentally not relevant to our experience in the world, and pretending it is is not only something that precocious children catch, it’s condescending beyond belief. I’ve never seen an adult being remorseful or sad about being ‘out of touch’ with what a ten year old is up to – I sure as hell am not either, usually. So I found that this was the response given to me as a child often: “oh im so old (forgive me)!” but it never really rang true to me.
What it rang as, instead, was: “oh haha you’re so young and your interests are so juvenile and I don’t have to respect them as I do the interests of my peers, and there is literally nothing you can do about it.”
But there’s a reason we do this – we’re not allowed, as adults, to experience the wonder of the world. We are encouraged to be cynical. Joy is seen as shameful. Actual contentment is seen as bizarre, strange, and yes, juvenile – we relegate, as we age, happiness to the realm of innocence or naiveté.
These days, when I meet kids, I take an active interest in what they’re doing, and I ask them what they’re up to and I meet them where they’re at. I don’t necessarily relate to their interests, but I’m real about that too, and I also still respect their interests.
Because if you can only respect interests that are relatable to you, how mature is that?
If you’re an adult that “teases” children about any issue – another common one being baby pictures, or discussions of children in front of them about how they used to be when younger– consider why you’re doing it. Because one of the coolest things you can do in a conversation with a child is ask them to teach you what they know, and take their interests seriously without a silly, stupid, condescending smirk on your face that says “oh my god! what a child! this child is such a young young child!” as though children don’t pick up on that.
It’s a great opportunity to teach respect, by giving it first.
In loving respect of the incredible insights we had as children, please consider checking out Quilted Creatures‘ latest project: Submit Your Children’s Book – A Short Collection of Children’s Books Written When You Were a Kid!