Why The Weird Fascination With Infantilizing Adults And Sexualizing Kids?

Why do we coddle adults who know better and encourage kids to be older or wiser than their years? It’s evident that we’re holding both kids and adults to different standards, but not the ones that you would think.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
Why The Weird Fascination With Infantilizing Adults And Sexualizing Kids Alamy

These days, we can’t let kids be kids, and we’re refusing to hold most adults accountable for their actions. Our culture has a weird fascination with infantilizing adults and sexualizing kids, even though doing so harms both groups.

Why Don’t We Treat Adults Like Adults?

We know that adults are obsessed with quote-unquote “adulting,” but does that mean they’re actually doing it? Not necessarily. With the way most Millennials and Zoomers post about their declining mental health online – while simultaneously wielding their vaccination cards like participation medals and claiming moral superiority over the rest of us – it’s getting harder these days to distinguish between self-aware, hard-working adults and individuals who act more like children in adult bodies.

We know that adults are no longer getting married or having kids at the rate they once used to (and are doing so later in life, if they do at all), which consequently, means that 52% of adults (aged 18 to 29) now live with their parents, the most since the Great Depression. The reasons behind this are obvious: Covid, the economy, higher costs of living, etc. In a seven-month period (from February to September 2020), the number increased by 2.6 million individuals to hit 26.6 million, according to the Census Bureau and Pew Research. The number of adults who are neither employed nor in school also doubled.

Young men are also more likely than women to live with their parents. When you factor in what most of us have already observed from the pandemic – deteriorating mental health, poor diets, and lack of exercise – it’s no wonder that now more adults than ever are reporting feelings of hopelessness, lack of control, and no desire to plan for the future.

52% of adults (aged 18 to 29) now live with their parents, the most since the Great Depression.

Somehow, though, Covid has also made us more entitled than ever. We’ve been conditioned to have perfect strangers accommodate us, and we’ve unfairly put the burden of keeping communities safe onto children. Rhetoric online makes it clear that vaccinating and masking young children is ranked as a high priority, yet we see nothing close to the same pressures placed on the adults making those decisions, nor are they really affected by them.

The entitlement is starting, as with many other toxic trends, in higher education. When universities began making safe spaces and exceptions for any and all identities or conditions, we were priming these same environments for the insanity that would soon follow. One professor sued their Connecticut college after a student lodged a complaint with the administration over a failing class grade, and another professor, at UCLA, is suing the school administration after he refused to give grading concessions to black students for the final exam in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Even 10 years ago, cases like these would’ve been preposterous. But these are the environments where individuals are supposed to transition from teenager to adult, and these are the mindsets they’re instilled with when they leave higher education and enter the adult world. 

Sexualizing Kids Isn’t the Progress We Think It Is

When we infantilize adults, the responsibilities and burdens of adulthood have to be directed somewhere. Unfortunately, that means our society is now shifting its focus onto sexualizing and parentifying kids. What many would see as progress, though, others rightfully see as a dangerous precedent with catastrophic consequences.

Sexualizing children doesn’t have to be overtly obvious for us to call attention to its potentially traumatizing effects. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of opening the door. Take, for example, parents in an Indiana school district who expressed outrage over the sexually explicit content available in school libraries to elementary and middle schoolers. Even as parents took to the podium to read specific concerning passages from these books to school board members, one parent said they weren’t able to read from a book when the meeting would be broadcast on the news “because it would be against FCC obscenity laws.” Content ranged from a Planned-Parenthood approved book on teaching masturbation to 10-year-olds to books on transgender toddlers. While there’s a time and a place for everything – even discussing sexual health with your children – an elementary school library without parental supervision probably isn’t the place.

Kids are being introduced to transgender ideologies at younger and younger ages. 

Then, there’s Allyn Walker, a transgender professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, who wrote A Long, Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity. In recent years, many activists have decried the term “pedophile” in favor of a more politically correct term like “minor-attracted person,” allegedly because the people in question have no control over who they’re attracted to – even if the object of their attraction is young, vulnerable children who don’t understand the implications behind these debates. In remarks posted to the internet, Walker promotes the term MAP instead of pedophile “because it’s less stigmatizing.” Walker later resigned from ODU, saying the remarks were “mischaracterized” by the media.

We’ve also seen increased efforts when it comes to introducing kids to transgender ideologies at younger and younger ages. What’s concerning is that adults are so insulated and entrenched in their own beliefs that their hubris expects children who are as young as toddlers to accept and understand every nuance of these complicated (and controversial) topics. Not only are we foisting these very-adult topics on children, but we’re opening them up to all kinds of conversations that we shouldn’t expect them to be ready to have.

The Harm in Role Reversal

Toddlers will never know what it’s like to grow up in a world with no talk of Covid or vaccine or mask mandates. While there are some parents actively trying to give their kids as normal a childhood as possible, others are only too eager to exploit possible dangers and use fearmongering to justify putting enormous responsibilities on their kids. In these instances, it’s the kids who are responsible for making adults feel safe, not the other way around.

Masking children all day does actually have harmful effects on kids, and even on babies who should be learning valuable developmental skills like bonding and relational communication but can’t when they’re observing adults wearing masks. Researchers from Brown University, who measured kids’ early learning composite, verbal development quotient, and non-verbal quotient in relation to how those developments were hindered by masks, found that the study participants scored 77 in 2021. In 2019, the score was just under a hundred.

Adults have a responsibility to children to comfort and protect them, not the other way around. 

Yet the concern of the majority of those in power is the possibility of new variants and rising positive cases, not kindergartners forced to eat lunch separately from one another outside in 40-degree weather.

As with many things that have resulted from the pandemic, we aren’t sure how these things will affect children long-term. But if the short-term data is any indication, it won’t be good news. Adults have a responsibility to children to comfort and protect them, not the other way around. In many ways, adults have consciously and intentionally robbed kids of their innocence and their childhoods, which will no doubt ensure that their generation rightfully resents their parents for years to come.

Closing Thoughts 

When infantilize adults we help them avoid responsibility or being held accountable. Consequently, when we sexualize children, we allow others to take advantage of them and we parentify them to give them the role of protector that’s no longer being filled.

In a perfect world, adults would have made the right decisions the first time and no child would have been aware that there was anything going on to worry about. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened. But children are still being taken advantage of, and adults are encouraging their anxiety and worry all to make themselves feel justified in their own fear. While it’s unfortunate this ever happened, it does even more damage the longer it continues. 

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