"Beauty Workshop....Bring out your best with a six-part seminar....for teens 11 to 18 featuring workshops in the art of makeup, skin and hair care, fashion, manners and etiquette . . . . " --Lord & Taylor ad in The Post
Since when do we classify 11-year-olds as teen-agers, and in need of seminars on the art of makeup?
I wonder if the people who are designing programs such as these know they are contributing to the confusion that adolescents already feel, not so much about who they are, but about where they are. It's what Boston psychologist David Elkind calls "stage confusion."
Making 11-year-olds feel that they need the polished fashion look of an adult strikes me as just another erosion of childhood, another indication of the wisdom of that handful of psychologists and writers who are crying in the wilderness that we are hurrying young people along too fast and depriving our children of their chance to really grow up.
I called Carole Randolph, who designed the seminars, which are being offered at Lord & Taylor stores in New York as well as Washington. She said that she "didn't push" makeup classes on 11-year-olds, but added that since many of them already are using makeup incorrectly, she wants to help them do it right.
"Eleven-year-olds can be coming in with dark eye liner and that is in bad taste," Randolph said. "But I can't say they are not into makeup at 11. Some Catholic school teachers say they are shocked with what some 11-year-olds wear: dark lipstick and too much eye makeup. Some only want lip gloss and blush, and I don't recommend any more."
In truth, the makeup classes for 11-year-olds, while blatantly pandering to the confusion in our society, are just symptomatic of a deeper problem. In a recent book, "Children Without Childhood," Marie Winn chronicles America's swing from a society that was once mad about kids (tolerating even adolescence with reasonable equanimity) to an era that is antichild, in which children are required to grow up too fast, becoming miniature adults before they graduate from sixth grade.
Psychologist Elkind, who is working on a book on teens that he calls "All Dressed Up and No Place to Go," says problems and stresses of teen life are different today, as well.
"The issue is not who am I, but where am I? Where do I belong?" he explains. "Parents are so concerned with realizing their own lives that they want to rush kids into being grownups and demand a lot in the way of responsibility and grownupness. The kids' whole world is upside down.
"They begin to believe they may be as adult as this adulthood we thrust upon them says they are. They have the facade of instant maturity. But this is unfortunate. Hurrying childhood encourages the wrong kind of growth on the part of kids."
Ironically, because our society is changing so rapidly, kids need more developmental time, rather than less. "Growth takes time," Elkind says. "By the time they find out they are not fully mature beneath the adult trappings, it may be too late."
Commercial interests such as soft-porn movies and youthful femme fatales on soap operas are part of the pressure that contributes to teen confusion about development. Parents are not always protecting and looking after children as they once did, and commercial interests believe they can step into this vacuum and play up to young people's disposable income.
There is a correlation between this too-early loss of innocence and all kinds of stress-related behaviors, from substance abuse and suicide to teen pregnancy to low performance in school.
Washington child psychiatrist Frances Wellsing, for example, says the less attention kids receive from their parents, the more they focus on sex.
"If there is a high-level absence of emotional support for children, there is a high-level quest for sexual involvement," she says.
Elkind thinks that the answer is for adults to begin acting like adults once again and take protective action toward young people.
"We try to protect the environment," he says. "I see kids as the most endangered species in the country."