Growing up, there was one particular phrase that would drive me bananas, which was used commonly by adults. The phrase:
“You’ll understand when you’re older.”
What exactly was I to understand? Good question.
Growing up , I realised that there were certain things that children simply couldn’t “understand” to the same degree adults could. Like the nature of love, and loss, and heart break. What it’s like to have a job, obligations and responsibilities. The things that one must experience directly to understand. And that’s fair enough.
However, when I hit about 16 years of age, I noticed that adults kept using this expression to kids my age. What’s more, they’d apply it in the same context they had always done when I was a mere child. “You’ll understand when you’re older, you’re still a teenager.” And then I got to thinking, “Hang on a second. When I was four, they told me I’d understand when I was ten. When I was ten, they told me I’d understand when I was 16. Now I’m 16, and I still don’t understand.”
Now, I’m 24. I’ve joined the adult world (ha-ha-ho) the only thing that I know for certain, the only thing I really understand, is that nothing is certain, and that I still don’t really understand. (Yes, that’s a paradox. Clap-clap). Everything that baffled and bamboozled me about life back then, still baffles and bamboozles me, now. Nothing really changed.
This might be a reflection on me, and what I think I might know, but don’t really know. But I beg to differ. You see, the fundamental problem I have with the expression, “You’ll understand when you’re older,” is that it assumes some sort of ultimate truth that can only be reached with age. It also assumes that everyone will eventually and invariably arrive at the same conclusion.
What conclusion? Good fucking question.
Who knows what I’ll come to understand one year, five years, or ten years from now? To assume that age brings about a special sort of wisdom, or even knowledge, is to make an ass out of u and me. I know plenty of adults who lead delightfully ignorant/wisdom-less/”immature” lives. It’s not uncommon. But what is common, at least from my own experience, is that the adults most inclined to use the expression, “you’ll understand when you’re older,” are also usually the ones who don’t understand much.
Another thing I’ve determined is that children understand life better than adults. We are the ones who’ve a lot to learn from them.
The lens’s of children is clean. Their vision is still untainted by the adult world, and all it comprises. Children don’t look upon life with dread, weary at the thought of another working week. They are free spirits. Imaginative geniuses. Not shackled down by the prism of their “self.” They are mature beyond their years because they live immaturely, without superimposed thoughts demanding them to be otherwise.
Actually, my girlfriend just told me a story quite fitting for this post.
Today, while she was on the bus, she noticed a mum and her son, a four-ish year old, talking together. The mum was explaining to the son everything that his life would comprise of when he grew up: He would go to school, then he’d go to university, then he’d get a job. He’d find a girlfriend, then get married, and then grow old like grandpa. The son responded, in all innocent seriousness, by simply stating “and then I’ll die?” To which the mum became a bit awkward, not knowing how to respond. There, the kid just exclaimed, completely content, “well, that’s okay. I’ll need a rest by then anyway.”
Isn’t that a great way to look at death? Without all the complications that adults attach to its concept? So innocent, yet so perfect.
Ultimately, it’s plain to see that age, as defined by a linear time-keeping system, does not at all equal maturity. It can equal maturity, sure, but it can also equal immaturity (the “bad” kind). All that age signifies is just that, age. That’s all. It’s rather simple.
So, for the parents, or anyone else dealing with kids on a frequent basis out there, here’s a know-it-all 24 year old farting some advice your way:
The next time your kid says, “but I don’t understand… why?” Instead of resorting to the common denominator that so many adults are hell bent on walking on, instead of merely stating, “you’ll understand when you get older, sonny Jim (or girly Sue), try to explain it to them.
Explain to them why you think love happens, or what you think death might be. Give them your best shot at drawing on why people work from 9-5, Monday through to Friday. Tell them that the world’s a weird and confusing place, and that there are some questions that no one has any answer for. Be real with them, be authentic and raw. Kids are a hell of a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and they see and feel things that they’re not necessarily capable of expressing through words. Be open to learning from them, in the same way they are open to learning from you.
And here’s a crazy idea, tell them the truth. Tell them that you your self don’t have all the answers. Period. Tell them it’s their own job to create an answer, to build on a conclusion of their own. Cause isn’t that what life’s all about?
Humans-are-often-blindly-arrogant-in-their-ignorance. Children know best.