Let Kids Be Kids

I spend most of my time with kids.  With five kids at home and over 700 kids at my dance studio, it’s probably fair to say that I spend more time with kids than I do with adults!  Multiplied across twenty years of teaching dance, I have spent a lot of time with kids and seen many changes along the way.

When I first started teaching dance, five-year old girls played with dolls in the lobby, carried their tap shoes in Barbie dance bags, and wore Garanimals over their leotards.  These days its more common to see a five-year old girl playing with a cell phone instead of with a doll; the dance bag comes from Justice and the outfit is Taylor Swift.

To quote Bob Dylan, “These times they are a-changing!”  And, the time aren’t just a-changing, Bob, they are moving faster!  In fact, the accelerated speed of childhood has become so wide spread it now has it’s own name – “age compression” – a pushing of adult products and experiences on younger and younger kids.  And, it’s everywhere.

I used to feel somewhat insulated from full-blown age compression in the Midwest, but in today’s digitally connected world, what’s “out there” is also “right here”.   From TV to clothing to music and social media, what was once reserved for adults is being marketed to kids at an increasing rate.  In fact, according to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) “tweens” spend $1.7 billion each year of their own cash, and marketers know it.

TV shows featuring teenage actors, depicting adult situations, are being marketed to 8-10 year olds.  Adult clothing styles, including spaghetti straps, skinny jeans, and knee high boots are now available in size 5T.  YouTube is filled with videos of kids singing and dancing to songs that would make grandma blush.  And, Facebook, once the domain of college students, has become a social currency for elementary and middle school kids.

And it’s not just the questionable things that are picking up the pace; even good things are speeding up.  Sports, for example, are more becoming more involved and time intensive at younger ages.  Even dance is not immune.  I recently attended a dance competition where I saw some five to seven year olds showcasing tremendous technical skills, but not necessarily a lot of class.   Is there ever a reason for children to dance the song “Wicked Little Girls”? Seriously.

As the founder of More Than Just Great Dancing™ I am on a mission to raise the bar for dance studio education and to honor, support and recognize the studios who desire to offer age-appropriate education.  Dancers growing up today will have a lifetime to navigate the complex world of adulthood.  In the meantime, I say let’s “Let Kids Be Kids”.

Today’s post is excerpted from an article I wrote for the September 2012 issue of La Crosse Magazine.