I always felt like I was growing up too fast or that I didn’t quite fit in my age range. Maybe it was learning to hold conversations with adults when young or the experiences I’ve had over my quarter-century of life. I’ve always felt like I had to mature sooner than others around me. I don’t know if everyone feels that way, like their younger years move faster than they’d like, or if it’s only a small subset of humanity. Regardless, you always wonder if this is the way life is supposed to be or if you’re being rushed along without a chance to breathe and soak in the scenery.
I thought about this as I read Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel, Ender’s Game. In it we follow Ender Wiggins, an extremely smart kid with a gift for strategy and the potential future survival of the whole world on his shoulders. After barely winning two wars with an alien race called the “buggers”, Earth’s military might quickly scrambles to assemble a fleet fit to fight a future invasion and desperately search for a commander. They seek this strategic master among the children, constructing a special military school in space to train them. Ender Wiggins is their final hope.
As we follow the 10-11 year old boy through Battle School, we watch as he deals with loneliness, peer pressure, depression, fierce anxiety, and utter exhaustion. We see him struggle through things no kid should have to deal with when young. Or should they?
There are moments when you feel pity for Ender because it seems like his childhood was stolen. Yet many of the things he deals with at Battle School are faced by kids in normal circumstances today. Any child can feel lonely, anxious, pressured, or depressed. Maybe their circumstances don’t stem from being trained to be a military monster, but those emotions and problems aren’t outside the realm of possibility for them. Still, we don’t want children soldiers.
So there’s a fine line that any parent must walk in raising their child. On one hand you want them to develop at a comfortable pace and live life fully as kids. You want to avoid exploiting them and forcing them to be adults too soon. On the other hand, though, their course in life might turn out to be one where they have to grow up quicker than expected. They may need to take on certain responsibilities or deal with grief long before anyone would prefer. No parent would wish such a life on their child, but no parent can perfectly shield their offspring from what life brings.
It’s a balancing act between letting your child grow naturally and pressing them to mature so they can stand when the crucible of life binds too hard. We shouldn’t place our kids in a bubble nor should we throw them out to the wolves with nothing but a dinner knife. Instead, we should walk with them and teach them for whatever comes from life. We encourage their imagination and playfulness, while at the same time preparing them for the challenges of being an adult. It’s a hard balance, we tend toward one way or the other. But it will help children not grow up too fast…or too slow.