“Don’t go cryin’ to your mama
Cause you’re on your own in the real world”
These lyrics have been floating around the radio stations for several weeks now, with Paramore putting out another catchy song. Each time it comes on the radio I listen for more understanding of the lyrics, and although I think I understand their message, that phrase- “the real world”- continues to settle wrong with me.
I remember hearing those words when I was in elementary school…”Oh just wait until you get into the REAL world!” Or my favorite… “Welcome to the REAL world!” usually on the heels of something bad happening in life, or facing a conflict of some sort.
If you would like to see me either a: shoot arrows from my eyeballs or b: practice the grand skill of holding my tongue with the best poker face around, please say this around me.
An eight year old’s real world is different from a 15 year old’s real world as well as a thirty year old’s real world. And may I never consider myself so educated or misunderstood that I desire to belittle the severity of pain going on in someone else’s life-no matter the age.
That’s why this phrase is unsettling to me.
You know what the real world is like for an 8 year old?
Learning to read and write well. Knowing your multiplication tables. Learning how to make friends at school. Understanding how to follow rules and know what adults are asking of us. Being loved healthily. That IS their real world. And personally, I don’t want them to experience the realness of adult life yet.
And you know what is real for a 16 year old?
Fitting in. Figuring out their emotions and spirituality in a time of great hormonal change. Learning about the rest of the world and how to be an influence, not just BE influenced. Parents divorcing. Grandparents dying. As far as I’m concerned, this is as REAL as it gets.
And then I can’t help but think of children and teens in other parts of the world who face war, hunger, abuse and terror when they walk out into their streets. Their real world is surviving from day to day on a bag of rice and avoiding missiles. Some of us will never have a real world quite like theirs. I’m sure there are times they would like to welcome YOU to their real world.
I only want to guide children and students to understand better the world they are currently living in and continue to explore others as well. I never want to downplay their situation or make them feel as if their problems aren’t real. Do they often need perspective? Yes. But a dose of perspective with a little empathy is often the best mix… and might I add, sounds rather characteristic of Jesus also. Just sayin’.
It also spurs me on to remember that no matter the ease or severity of our own real world, we are never to do it alone. Not in insolation or figuring it out ourselves, but rather in community where we carry each others burdens and learn also how to cast our cares upon Jesus. Pitching this cliché at others shuts them down and causes them to not want to be transparent… which I, personally, vehemently fight for.
As adults, if we choose to connect with children and teens at these vital ages and teach them how to navigate their 8 and 12 and 15 year old real world problems, then I believe we can be confident in knowing when they reach adulthood … aka THE REAL WORLD… they will be aware of their situation as well as others, and walk that journey with grace and empathy.