One of the all-too-human reactions that recurs, perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the information glut in which we find ourselves living, is the tendency to overcomplicate things.
It is difficult not to overthink or overanalyze when every new decision we face is accompanied by an endless stream of data and innumerable ‘what if’s.’
But it can be a potentially dangerous trap, especially for those in the business of trying to understand, and reach, children. Because for all the evidence to support today’s accepted portrait of children as hip and worldly-wise junior adults, there is just as much reason to remember that they’re still kids fragile, innocent, joyful and, in some very special ways, uncomplicated, easily touched people.
This message hit home recently as I, along with four teachers from an inner-city school located in one of Toronto’s toughest neighborhoods, accompanied 15 girls age nine to 11 years to an awards show created and produced by Canada’s youth cable network, YTV. The awards program, which celebrates the extraordinary achievements of Canadian young people, has been running for eight years. It aired this year nationally as a live, two-and-a-half hour show on a Sunday evening in prime time. In this case, the special draw was the appearance of The Backstreet Boys, a group of five fresh-faced youngsters who met at a club in their hometown of Orlando, Florida, and are now pinned up on the bedroom walls of tween girls around the world.
The act unapologetically romances adolescent girls. The Boys croon their ballads and swing their bodies through tightly choreographed performances. Their fashion is all baggy pants. The music is rhythmic and sweet and the lyrics tap directly into the fantasies and preoccupations of children at that pubescent stage in life.
Obviously, The Backstreet Boys are being carefully managed and packaged. And perhaps from an adult perspective, there may be something even uncomfortable about the degree of worship they can elicit. But for 15 young ladies who knew every last word of every song and whose hearts raced merely at the prospect of being in the same city at the same time, The Backstreet Boys connect deeply in some universal way.
The group of girls we were chaperoning are members of an informal chat group organized by two teachers in the school. They meet once a month, usually every fourth Friday at lunch, just to talk about growing up, about what’s cool to wear, about nutrition, about whatever might interest them. They are kids who really want to talk.
I believe it was Fred Rogers, the deliberate-speaking, cardiganed host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, who, when asked on the 25th anniversary of his television show if there was one common thread that tied together the generations of children he’d come to know, replied: ‘Kids just want to be loved.’ And, I’m sure he would add, to love.
Yes, it’s true, children’s lives are probably more complicated today than they ever were, and their problems are complex. But their needs are still relatively simple.