It's hard not to admire eight-year-old anti-genocide speaker Freya Slocumb. But there seems to be a spate of young kids in the public eye lately, and it may not be entirely good.
Slocumb — refreshingly garbed in an un-Bratz-like t-shirt and jumper — can instantly point to Darfur on a globe at a reporter's request. Though she's given three public speeches against the Darfur genocide, and helped sell "sacrifice beads" to raise money for the cause, she's not allowed to see dark for documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, because it's too violent. One of her speeches begins, "I care because I am a young girl and I believe young girls everywhere should be safe."
Her words are affecting, and certainly children should be allowed to stand up for what they believe in. But there's something a little unsettling about young children moving too far into adult realms like book publishing, public speaking, and punditry. Ten-year-old Alec Greven won fame with his book How To Talk To Girls — now that he's on his third book, his success begins to reek of gimmickry. As Jessica noted, his first book isn't actually helpful for talking to adult women, and most of its success probably had to do with the cuteness of a little kid writing a dating guide. Do we really want to make kids' cuteness into more of a commodity than it already is, especially when the most famous cute people — child actors — often have such difficult adult lives?
For someone like fourteen-year-old conservative pundit Jonathan Krohn, the draw is probably more precocity than outright cuteness. It's hard to imagine former education secretary and drug czar William Bennett becoming a "mentor and very good friend" to a self-published author with no high school diploma — unless that author happened to be in eighth grade. One downside of Krohn's fame is pretty obvious: when you're a kid, you say a lot of things that will seem stupid when you're an adult. Luckily, for most kids these are not recorded. But Krohn will be able to look back at the New York Times in ten or twenty years and remember — along with the rest of the nation — that at fourteen he said, "Barack Obama is the most left-wing president in my lifetime."
Kids who develop public personas at a young age miss out on an important childhood privilege — privacy. Average kids have eighteen whole years before they're even expected to vote, eighteen years in which the only audience for their opinions is their family and whoever will listen on the playground. This time gives kids a chance to formulate a sense of self without too many people watching, and without the massive, confusing feedback that can come from speaking one's thoughts to a large audience. Denying kids this safe period of time — allowing them to use the novelty of their youth to gain fame — may make them into people-pleasers, exposed too much and too soon to the euphoria of public approval and the bitterness of public criticism. At the very least, it robs kids of the chance to practice having opinions in relative private, a chance everyone should get to have. So while Freya Slocumb's commitment to ending genocide is admirable, let's hope her parents protect her from overexposure as much as they protect her from violence.
Raising Money And Giving Speeches For Justice In Darfur — And Only 8 years Old [MinnPost.com]
The Little Mr. Conservative [New York Times]