Kids grow up so fast these days, but apparently not fast enough for some people. Thanks to overly zealous parents hellbent on fast-tracking their progeny through life, infants are dropping beats at Baby DJ School and 5-year-olds are working the pole at weekly kids pole-dancing classes, proving it's never too late to have the cool, hip childhood you dreamed of ... albeit lived vicariously through your offspring.
"Look, I don't know what these are either. Just leave some laying around near your laptop."
Maybe these kids really do want to be the next Paul Oakenfold or Gypsy Rose Lee, but it's way more likely that most of these activities are pursued to fulfill some sort of unrequited fantasy on the part of mom or dad. No harm, no foul, right? While pretending your 3-month-old has any interest in learning how to beat match is mostly just a benign exercise in parental ego-stroking, there are certain activities that really aren't for kids. Youngins don't have the capacity to make an educated, informed choice in the matter, so they are forced to rely on the guidance of the grown-ups around them. Are these guardians doing their charges a disservice by allowing them to pursue activities that REALLY should be for fully formed adults only?
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Football. It's as American as credit card debt and police brutality. Every year, the NFL dominates the list of most-watched televised sporting events, and for the past 30 years has been named the nation's favorite sport. Nothing even comes close to the stranglehold football has on the hearts and minds of the sports-loving public, so no surprise that it's also the brutal sport of choice for millions of America's youth.
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"If you tell anyone you have a concussion, your parents won't love you anymore."
Football is so ingrained in the fiber of our culture it seems there's no scandal large enough to knock it off its battered, archaic pedestal. Nothing, not even accusations of racism, ritualistic hazing, or domestic abuse seems to be able to dampen the popularity of the game. With so many negatives currently surrounding the sport, it's easy to forget one other pesky downer ... there's also a good chance playing football will leave you brain damaged.
There wouldn't be a stock photo for it if that wasn't true.
Every week, fans of the pro game suffer through an endless parade of mind-numbingly inane commercials and tedious punditry in heady anticipation of the holy grail of the sport ... the hard hit. There's nothing like watching oversized, testosterone-addled men willfully hurl themselves at each other to get the blood of the American sports fan pumping. But all this bloodlust comes with a price. And that price is extracted in pounds of fleshy gray matter. Last year the NFL was forced to pay out at least $765 million to thousands of players who suffered irrevocable injuries as a result of playing the game. The settlement came after the NFL was found negligent for failing to adequately warn players about the inherent risks associated with running full-speed into each other.
A real shame considering effective PSAs are so easy to make.
If these adults had a hard time making an informed decision about their safety, how are children going to fare? And the problem gets exponentially worse when you look at participation levels. The NFL has fewer than 2,000 athletes. By a wide margin, the largest group of football players/potential brain-damage victims are people too young to catch an R-rated movie without being accompanied by a grown-up. Youth football participants number in the millions, with over 1 million high-schoolers and another 3 million ranging in age starting as young as 7.
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Do parents even exist anymore?
Don't let the adorable truncated field and miniature pigskin fool you. Football is just as dangerous in the Pee-Wee leagues. Thanks to their little pencil necks, impacts among elementary school kids are proportionally as severe as those seen at the adult level, and the average high school player is almost twice as likely to suffer a brain injury as someone playing in college. The long-term effects have yet to be adequately studied, but there is growing evidence that the longer you've played, the more likely your memory is going to be screwed up. Unlike the pros, who have a cadre of highly trained specialists watching over their every move and rehabilitation effort, young players suffer through injuries with no one looking after their well-being except for a coach/dad whose main qualification is usually "abundant free time on the weekends."
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"Also, your friends will think you're a baby."
Not that it makes up for permanent brain injury, but the average pro salary is around $2 million. Kids, who often have no real say in the matter of whether they play or not and are legally too young for informed consent, have only swigs of Gatorade and fleeting moments of glory as compensation for time spent as miniature battering rams.
Even when presented with all the possible negatives, parents continue to send their kids onto the field. Not even celebrity anti-endorsements seem to stem the tide. Bob Costas, President Obama, and Brett Favre have all said they don't think the gridiron is any place for a child. If their warnings don't convince you, how about the fact that Adrian Peterson, a pro football player and parent who's in no danger of being named father of the year, has said he'd never let his kids play the game.
Even though it would be the most adorable viral video ever, there's a reason we don't let 5-year-olds drink beer and drive cars. Children are partially evolved humans who have no qualms about eating dead flies off windowsills, have a penchant for getting their heads stuck between things, and throw epic temper tantrums.
Should these miniature disaster magnets really be allowed to own their own guns? Any sane person would say, "Of course not." Don't worry sane people, the government agrees with you ... sort of. Federal law actually prohibits handgun ownership by anyone under the age of 18. However, there's no minimum age to own your own rifle or shotgun. That's left up to the states to decide. Twenty states and the District of Columbia do have minimum age laws that range from as old as 21 in Illinois to as young as a puberty-straddling 14 in Montana. However, in the remaining 30 states it's totally legal for your little Annie or Andy Oakley to own a shotgun.
States in dark red are where children are most likely to kill you.
And in Vermont gun laws for teens are even more chill. The Green Mountain State allows 16-year-olds to buy handguns and conceal carry their weapons without the hassle of asking their parents for permission.
While teenagers are one thing, and you may argue that it's the age to start taking on adult responsibilities, some gun manufacturers are actually mining an even younger demographic. Keystone Sporting Arms produces both the Crickett and Chipmunk single shot rifles. Aimed directly at the kiddie market, both are available in an assortment of fun colors, including pink, purple, and the old patriotic standby, red, white, and blue.
Shooting deer in the head has never looked so adorable!
They also offer a My First Rifle book for young gun owners. When I was in kindergarten, our reading groups were divided into Lions, Tigers, and Bears, a clever way to sort kids by ability without stigmatizing them. But it didn't take a Lion to figure out the actual hierarchy. Lions were reading books, Tigers sounded out words on flashcards, and Bears were shown pictures of shapes and colors in the hopes they'd yell out if they recognized anything. The point is, kids advance at different speeds, and it appears My First Rifle was written for the kids who yell out "square" during "reading" class.
Adults reviewing the book seem acutely aware of their children's inability to handle advanced reading material. That spot-on assessment of limitations doesn't seem as clear when it comes to gifting their kids with killing machines. Unfortunately, when very real items like guns get mistaken for toys, the results can be much more devastating than the inability to sound out the big words.
Yes, we know Brad Pitt owned a gun at age five and everything turned out OK with him. But the downside is huge when things don't. Not only are kids emotionally too immature to handle deadly weapons, oftentimes they are physically incapable as well. Even though an Uzi is known for its tricky recoil and ability to fire hundreds of rounds in minutes, some adults thought shooting one would be a perfectly fine activity for a 9-year-old girl.
Unfortunately, it wasn't. In this case, the young girl accidentally killed her instructor when she lost control of the weapon she was shooting at a Las Vegas firing range. It's a tough lesson for everyone involved.
The evangelical child preacher has been around since the first revivalist showed up to pitch a tent and hustle for an "Amen." Many skeptics are quick to point out that "child preacher" is really just a fancy name for "exploited kid," and what's really going on is tantamount to a sideshow-esque form of abuse. One of the most celebrated child preachers of all time would probably agree. Marjoe Gortner spent his youth as a fire-and-brimstone child minister on the evangelical circuit and later went public with his experience, documenting all the corruption, manipulation, and child abuse that went along with it. Despite Gortner's revelations, the child preacher continues to be a popular attraction.
That apocalyptic tyke in the above video is Kanon Tipton, babbling his way through a sermon. Tipton first came to fame when that video of him as a marble-mouthed toddler surfaced on YouTube. Billed as the "World's Youngest Preacher," a title that's just begging to be challenged, he's since been on The Today Show and Fox News and is featured in a National Geographic documentary.
While the U.S. is by far the No. 1 producer of pint-sized pulpiteers (God seems to be very specific about the markets he targets), we are by no means the only country. Brazil, whose fastest-growing religion is evangelical Christianity, churns out a healthy number of kids with a direct line to God. Known as the Brazilian child healers, these young spiritual entrepreneurs turn a nice profit laying on hands while lightening the wallets of those in need.
"My mom says you're healed, you gullible son of a bitch."
And Christianity isn't the only game in town for youngsters looking to be compensated financially for doing God's work. There's a popular reality show in Indonesia where kids as young as 7 compete as Islamic preachers to win cash prizes.
There's something about watching a young soul rail against sinners and threaten eternal damnation that draws a crowd. And that freak-show factor translates into cold, hard cash, which is why it's really difficult to discern parental motivation. But even if your kid does have "the calling" and speaking in tongues seems like the next logical step after potty training, doesn't healing the sick and fleecing the flock seem like an awful lot of responsibility for a toddler?
If extreme tackiness were an Olympic sport, Americans would sweep the podium every four years. Our flag is spangled. Our homes McMansionized. And every mundane pastime is accompanied by over-the-top theatrics and a camera crew.
Even if we don't partake directly, we revel in the basest society has to offer. Our unhealthy fascination with kitsch has created an entire cottage industry of reality-TV programs dedicated to giving a voyeur's peek into engineered gaucheness. And the Ultimate Grand Supreme is the glitzy world of child beauty pageants.
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Pictured: The last time this girl will ever be happy.
Child pageants are so deliciously awful; it's hard to look away. The subculture is chock-full of insane caricatures and arcane rules. The flashy costumes, bedazzled props, and young children shellacked from head to toe in the trappings of a 1980s Dallas divorcee are juxtaposed against the backdrop of the rundown, dilapidated, interchangeable airport hotel ballrooms and the sad-sack moms desperately defending all their horrible parenting decisions. Thousands of dollars are funneled into winning an event with such a convoluted titling system that being crowned "Princess" is basically akin to being named a guttersnipe, while being crowned some version of "Grand Poobah Ultimate Supreme Being" makes it worth all the time, money, and childhood innocence spent.
She's sad because she failed.
It's more than a train wreck. It's one tacky, bedazzled head-on collision after another. But just like an actual wreck, you have to have empathy and concern for the victims or you really are some kind of monster. These pageants not only sexualize young children for adult ego and profit, they also normalize it. Little girls bump and grind in flashy rip-away attire that's more suitable for the local bikini bar than a kid-friendly event, while the adults whoop and holler inspirational cheers like, "Git it, girl!" As a grown-up, you certainly can decide if you want to parade around like a prized 4-H cow to be appraised based on your physical attributes and ability to work the crowd, but how healthy is it to subject children to this type of scrutiny?
Trophies never make anything worth it.
While the rest of the world generally looks on in horror, the U.S. revels in children being judged on a freakish beauty standard in a $5 billion a year industry that pits hundreds of thousands of youngsters against each other. Last year the French Senate passed a law banning pageants for kids under the age of 16 and imposed strict penalties (up to two years in prison and a $40,000 fine) for anyone who "helps, encourages, or tolerates" children participating in the events. Australia initially protested the invasion of American-style pageants arriving on their shores, and recently the Australian Parliament recommended scrutinizing pageants over sexualization concerns.
Most American parents who enter their kids in pageants, when asked why, will trot out the old "it promotes self-confidence" cliche. But a 7-year-old being judged on her Lolita-like "come hither" glances and gyrating hips seems like a curious path to healthy self-esteem.
For more from Diana, follow her on Twitter @misstirio.
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