The prism of experience goes both ways.
With the benefit of having lived through childhood, colored by the often difficult realities of adulthood, grown-ups can gaze fondly at kids and say, "Sheesh. What a life."
We may remember lazy summer days, lying in the grass and watching the clouds roll by. We may remember neighborhood baseball games or an afternoon of snowball fights and sledding, when all we had to worry was what was for dinner.
We may pine for the days when we didn’t have to contend with rush hour and mortgage payments. When there weren’t so many demands on our time. When life was predictable and we knew someone would comfort us if we had a bad day.
So it can be difficult to understand why kids are in such a hurry to grow up. Slow down, we say, and enjoy your childhood. You’ve got plenty of time to be a grown-up, we tell them. And besides, the job of adulthood isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. I’d trade places with you in a second.
But would we?
Since school is their job, consider that kids spend at least 30 to 35 hours a week at the "office." Then, they may bring home an hour or so of work each night. That’s the easy part.
They have six or seven different bosses, if they’re in middle or high school, and to thrive they must understand the idiosyncracies of each one. What one boss may allow, another may punish.
They must work with hundreds of other employees, and work closely with a few dozen. They are punished if they don’t get along.
Once their homework is done, their bosses at home have additional expectations. Chief among them: No whining. You don’t know how good you’ve got it. So much for a grievance process; take out the trash.
Pay is negotiable, but varies widely among employees. Some get lots of money for little or no effort, and others, like my little workers, feel shafted.
Even the job of a kindergartner is tough. Sure, they play a lot at school and the teachers are kind and patient. But just learning to hold a pencil correctly and make a capital "G" can, in the life of a 5-year-old, be quite stressful.
All the while, they must negotiate new emotions and process information coming at them like water from a fire hose, much of it, in the form of TV and other media, well beyond their ability to understand.
If they fall down, there may or may not be someone to pick them up. If they fail, as with adults, there are lifelong consequences.
So my middle schooler and I compare notes about our respective jobs, and he concludes that while we’ve both got a lot to do, my work is more important than his.
Excuse me, I say, but your job is to grow up into a healthy, successful adult. To excel both academically and socially so you can find true love and build a career that makes you happy and pays the bills. And, by the way, we grown-ups are relying on you and your generation to save the world.
Looking through the prism of experience, we don’t know how good we’ve got it.