A few days ago, a comment was made about my eldest daughter that really bothered me. Not so much that it was said or said unfairly or was even a negative comment – it certainly wasn’t intended as such although I perceived it as so. But it bothered me because it made me question how I am raising my children.
“She’s so naïve,” the person said.
“Just because she doesn’t talk about stuff, doesn’t mean she doesn’t know about it,” I replied.
The conversation essentially ended with that as merry-making was pursued but in the back of my mind my thoughts have since been lingering on this icicle of doubt slowly drip drip dripping into a bucket of concern.
I don’t want her to be naïve, I thought. Being naïve is like being ignorant or stupid. She’s certainly not stupid, I grumbled to myself. But the more I thought about it the more I wondered if I had done a disservice to my children by keeping what I deemed inappropriate topics at bay, by letting them stay children for as long as they could. Finally, I worked myself into such an angsty panic that I looked up the actual definition of naïve.
1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous.
2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She's so naive she believes everything she reads. He has a very naive attitude toward politics.
3. having or marked by a simple, unaffectedly direct style reflecting little or no formal training or technique: valuable naive 19th-century American portrait paintings.
4. not having previously been the subject of a scientific experiment, as an animal.
I read through it a couple times and eliminated the 3rd and 4th definitions as having no connection to the answer I was looking for. The other two, however, can and do apply. Here’s what I get out of this definition: all naïve means is that a person is not “worldly” or that they haven’t gone through a lot of experiences. Also, look at that phrase, absence of artificiality, and really think about it. We are overrun with artificiality. Reality TV that is nowhere near “real,” political pundits spinning a story to suit their purpose, celebrities! Is artificiality more valuable than honesty now? Is weaving a lie a better skill to learn than speaking the truth? Is being artificial what we should strive for?
As I turned this definition over and over I kept coming back to one really important fact: Ashleigh is 15. She is naïve in the strictest sense of the word as she is has not experienced worldly things. She is just 15. By the very nature of being 15 she can not help not knowing things. She hasn’t been alive long enough to experience all the world has to offer. I am 35 and I can’t say that I consider myself “worldly and experienced.”
At 15 my world view was extremely narrow. I saw school and I saw home. At 15, like most 15 year olds, I just knew that I knew all there was in the world worth knowing. I didn’t start following politics until I was 18 when I had a reason to understand them. I didn’t start following world events until they affected me. I didn’t start really looking at the world and having “worldly” experiences until college. At 35, I am content to say I am still learning. I have a lifetime of knowledge ahead of me because there are still a lot of things I am, by definition, naïve about.
Ashleigh is an honest kid; there is nothing artificial about her. She isn’t deceptive or demeaning to others. She wants to believe the best of everyone, but knows that people will disappoint and hurt her. She doesn’t like unfairness and thinks that everyone should have the same rights but knows that rights aren’t always equal. She questions things she doesn’t understand and refuses to follow a crowd. She is playful. She knows to stay out of a dark alley but she knows how to protect herself if she’s in a jam. She understands that there are monsters in the world and they look just like the neighbor down the street or the smiling checkout person at the store. She makes mistakes and owns up to the consequences of her actions. She’s more concerned with school than with sex. She doesn’t follow politics or religion but she watches the news and reads articles so I know she’s learning. She does the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
And I taught her all that. Not a preacher or a book, not a movie or game. Me. I’m the overprotective parent who still previews movies before she watches them, who questions her on all the books she reads, and who wants to meet her friends before she hangs out with them. I’m the one who insists on family dinners and wholesome TV and game night. Not because I have my head in the clouds and want to live in the past, but because children are only children for a fraction of a second. Do they really need sex and murder and crime shoved into their lives? They know it exists, they’ve seen it on the news. We don’t pretend the bad doesn’t exist, but we spend our time looking for the good.
If all that adds up to her being naïve, then I am all for it.
Call me protective. I am. Call me naïve. I am. Call my children naïve and I’ll nod my head and agree, because they are.
At 15 there is plenty of time for her to grow and gain knowledge and experience. Before long, Ashleigh will be off to college, traveling the world and living her own life. I get her for 20 years give or take a few. She’ll be alive for another 60 to 80 years. Maybe one day, she’ll consider herself worldly but for now, let her be naïve. Let her be a kid.