You know, I love to draw meaning from stories, it’s one of the most fun things I know of. I hope all of you have had that experience of sitting (or standing) with someone and just analyzing a story you both like. You get such a satisfied feeling afterward.
As I mentioned, I’ve been watching RWBY, and the show is just too good not to analyze in depth. There’s a lot to choose from, but today I’m thinking of one of its more sobering themes. It’s problematic, but it plays into a common concern parents and teachers, as well as young people like myself, have with entertainment, and how we should prepare kids for the world.
RWBY has, ever since season 2, not hesitated to bring up the question of when children should be considered adults. The idea the show deals with is if it’s really correct to call kids kids after they’ve taken up the gauntlet to fight for good.
This dilemma is presented literally by Yang, a girl who actually uses “gauntlets” to fight, and makes a point on multiple occasions of saying she doesn’t consider herself a kid. Now that she (spoiler alert) has made the choice to risk her life defending the world, been on a mission armed to the teeth, and then lost her arm defending her friend, she feels pretty adult.
Yang’s perspective is understandable, but it is counted by her mentor Ozpin and also her father, Ozpin never talks to Yang about it specifically but he does wish for the youth on the show to retain some of their child-likeness as long as they can, knowing it won’t be for long. He also hopes they will not lose their sens of humor. Yang’s father Tai tells her directly that she’s still got a lot to learn, just fighting and undergoing trauma doesn’t make her an adult.
Yang does go on to prove she is growing up by making her own difficult choices. But we are still left wondering if it had to be that way. And if it’s right for children to take on such adult roles.
It’s an old problem on shows with young characters that they tend to act more adult than the adults, but this show takes a closer look at why that is. Maybe the simple truth is that we talk down to kids, and they are capable of handling far more than we realize.
Children, as any teacher who’s had any success might tell you, are capable of grasping very deep subjects, often faster than adults do. Things like loss can be hard on kids, but sometimes they still handle it better than adults.
It depends on the person, but it’s fair to say that children surprise us with their maturity often enough to make us question if sheltering them really makes sense.
i don’t mean you shouldn’t protect kids from knowing about evil. But some people think that includes not telling them about suffering and pain, and that’s not something we really can keep from kids. There’s no sense dwelling on it, but if it comes up, should we hedge around it as we often try to do?
RWBY is honest about one thing: This is war. As a kid, that’s what I was told. We’re in a war between good and evil. That wasn’t hard to accept…it’s not really like that’s news to a child. They see the fight all around them.
But in a war there are casualties, an damages, and wounds, and losses. What do we do with those? Some say we should encourage children to think about the happier things in life as long as they can. Others that we should not shield them from harsh realities.
If I might offer some insight on what I think the real answer is…
I think that we over think it, honestly. Unfortunately, the reason we do that is because we have the luxury of it. Not so long ago, most kids would have known someone who had died, or had lost a close family member. Tragedy would not have been a strange notion to kids. They weren’t sheltered from it because there was no way for them to be. Parents couldn’t hide the truth. Cruelty and hate were things kids witnessed, not just in bullying or movies or online, but in person. Between adults.
In many countries, this is still the case. I don’t know why the West doesn’t get it, honestly, I think it’s because we spend so much time running from realities like that ourselves. For some reason, we think our happily ever after comes without a struggle.
It’s not that we should give up on happy endings, which our culture has more of than most, all over its’ fiction and sayings and ideals, and I love that about America; but we tend to pass over the part in every story where the hero or heroine had to got through nearly hell to get to the better ending.
It’s quite simple, if you want a mediocre, quiet ending, then live mediocre and run from what would make you a hero. If you want a truly happy ending, then you have to embrace the sorrow in life and let it temper you into something new.
My pastor pointed out this past Sunday that Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” He said “we need to learn how to mourn.”
And that got to me, because, I don’t know how.
Golly gee whiz, I’m not the only one am I? As a freaking culture, we don’t know how to mourn. Our whole message to people is that if you get knocked down, you get right back up. You shove people’s abuse of you right back at them. You keep moving forward.
Well, yeah, you should, but first you have to mourn.
If we hold it together all the time, then our strength will be brittle and a strong enough blow will shatter us. But if we let ourselves break over and over again, we’ll heal a little faster each time.
And this applies so much to children. I wasn’t usually told to stop crying when I was upset as a kid. Mostly, I could express my feelings. But I still bottled them up out of insecurity, a huge part of my christian journey was learning to cry over my hurt. And just let myself admit it sucked. It’s funny, when you quit trying to be strong all the time, you find things aren’t so hard to bear. Not with God’s help.
And other people’s.
And dang it, that’s what we need to tell kids. Yes, you’ll have hard times. But it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s because we treat suffering like it’s something to fear that it’s so hard to deal with it. It can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we need to fear it coming.
And there is comfort. That’s important to remember.