The longer Sarah Menkedick lived in the U.S., the more aware she became of its “kid culture.” Writing for Aeon, Menkedick shows Mexico’s contrasting framework: it’s not strange to bring your children to a bar or a late-night parade, where the whole community is in the fray. The U.S., on the other hand, creates designated places for children — museums, playgrounds, family restaurants. Families are supposed to frequent these even if they “can’t stand the children in various stages of overload and meltdown, chucking gooey Teddy Grahams crackers from their strollers.”
Although there are many benefits to a society with a distinct “family-friendly” culture, Menkedick argues that separating family from community life is not one of them.
Kid culture fully subscribes to the idea that children need to inhabit a world unto themselves that has been carefully organised and constructed by adults; that their childhood must be meticulously cultivated in a Petri dish of intentional experiences; that their growth into healthy and happy human beings is contingent upon the number of hours they spend navigating climbing walls or scooping trays of ice into buckets; that ‘good’ parents will rearrange their entire lives to create opportunities for their kids to sit on the grass and watch a librarian act out the story of Hansel and Gretel with finger puppets; that ‘family life’ means doing something targeted specifically or exclusively toward children. It’s the idea that to become a parent is to forfeit citizenship of a larger culture, reinforced by the sly, ubiquitous US capitalist pressure to consume and experience one’s way through a competitive childhood.
The more elaborate excesses of kid culture illuminate its basic paradox. Give a kid three light tables’ worth of coloured sand and half a dozen glowing lightsabers, and she’ll end up cross-legged on the floor studying a tuft of lint. Even the 19th-century reformers in Chicago fretted that kids ‘do not know how to play’. Teachers from Hull House – a settlement house in Chicago for newly arrived European immigrants – would go to playgrounds to instruct children in good, hearty, organised American games such as ring-around-a-rosy, but the children preferred to roughhouse, build massive improvised structures, and hurl themselves around on the swings. Some even dug holes under the fence to the playground.