There is a conception of childhood floating in the cultural stew that those first years are the best period of your life. I mean, how could they not be? Playing with friends after school, lazy summer days, family vacations, Christmas presents, freedom, fun times as memorably depicted in the movie, The Sandlot. And people believe it, are so inexplicably nostalgic for their childhoods, they buy Pokémon cards, Power Rangers DVDs, or whatever terrible hyper-commercialized crap advertisers paid to have scorched into the hippocampi of tiny babies. But the truth is childhood is actually the worst time in a human’s life cycle, worse even than the part where you’re kept alive by hospital machinery as all your memories fade into darkness. Here’s why:
1. You’re Stuck in the Suburbs
Is there any setting more fundamentally soul crushing and culturally desolate than the American suburb? Sure there are teenage orphans in Liberia whose only joy is huffing fermented poop from water bottles, but in the suburbs, you eat at Subway for fun. And you have no say in where your psyche ripens, are instead subject to your parents’ no doubt arbitrary hometown decision. At this spiritually permeable age when you’re searching for identity and meaning, your view of the world is eclipsed by Chile’s, Blockbuster, Starbucks, and various gas stations (there’s a reason it’s called The Virgin Suicides and not The Virgin Good Times Celebration). I remember walking 40 minutes down the road just to shuffle through a Barnes and Noble for a couple hours. And for more on existential despair as it relates to the American suburb, consult the last 50 or so years of art and media.
2. Limited Social Pool
It’s hard to overstate how influential your childhood friends are in shaping that malleable bit of mush between your ears. Unfortunately, your choices are limited. Depending on the grade level, you have maybe a hundred or so candidates for social interaction. I’m a friendly person, but the percentage of the general population with whom I can form a close, long-term bond is shockingly small, certainly less than 1/100. So as a child, you might find yourself associating with dummies, the morally bankrupt, or just plain boring people—friendships of convenience. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discarded most of these hometown FOCs (except for a couple) with the cold superciliousness of the urban snob. These days, I’m friends with people I genuinely love, not people I was forced to sit next to in math class.
3. No Autonomy
My childhood often felt like one of those State Fair haunted house rides where you’re carted through a series of nightmares on a metal track; no control over the speed or direction, all of it engineered by some apathetic adult. Take these classes. Eat these nuggets. Go to church. Go to church camp. You’re enrolled in soccer now for some reason, hope you like it. Oh, you don’t enjoy soccer? Well, you’ll be playing it for the next six years because, I don’t know, God is dead and the universe is chaos. Being a reclusive, hermetic child, my parents felt compelled to thrust me into activities like Boy Scouts, and now my Boy Scout uniform, utterly badge-less, endures as the weakest symbol of adolescent rebellion ever.
4. You’re Neurologically Incomplete
As a child, you’re psychologically unequipped to deal with the rest of humanity. For one, your frontal cortex (the seat of higher functions like reasoning, inhibition, and control) hasn’t fully developed, which is why teenagers occasionally freak out and stab classmates’ eyeballs with pencils. For another, a recent study found that children don’t develop cognitive empathy—the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes—until the ages of 13-15. And no surprise here, boys actually take a couple years longer to develop empathy than girls, yet another reason why they’re prone to go bananas with that pencil. But on a fundamental level, you just don’t know anything about anything. The world and its rules are unknown, and the learning process is a frustratingly painful slog.
5. You Have to Go to School
Some children cope well with school: the structured learning, the constant barrage of social contact, the pressure to succeed. They join the French Honor Society, attend spirit rallies, and ace the marshmallow test with no trouble. Then they grow up and become job creators. Others, like myself, dissolve into a billion particles they spend the next decade or so reassembling into a misshapen, duct taped approximation of Self. As time goes by, people forget how traumatic school actually was and revulsion turns into some deranged Stockholm syndrome induced nostalgia. Throwback Thursday. High school reunions. What a bunch of terrible garbage. My classmates never knew me; only an underdeveloped, broken, beta version of me, which bring me to my next point.
6. You and Everyone Else Are Awkward
Children, crippled by the aforementioned lack of empathy and inexperience socializing, are awkward as hell. You have no idea how to talk to people in a way that is not completely insane. For example, when I was a kid, I wanted to tell my friends interesting stories, but I had none, so I would tell them lies instead: “Did you hear about the astronaut who flew into a black hole? He’s giving an interview about what he saw in there on the news tonight,” or, “Last night, I saw hooded figures perform a satanic ritual on my front lawn.” Since these were not particularly plausible lies, I just became known as a liar. I also wore Hawaiian shirts every day, even in winter. And sometimes, I spontaneously cried for no good reason in the middle of class. So no, childhood is not a time I remember wistfully. I’m thankful to watch it recede in the rearview mirror like some enormous dead rat I ran over.