Last week I was wasting time on YouTube and I came across a clip of a celebrity on a talk show. The host commented how this particular celebrity got his start as a child star, and that came from some appearances on TV competition shows where he had performed as a dancer. I'm being intentionally vague because my intention is not to call out these particular people, but rather the behavior and the prevailing thought that drove that conversation. The thing that really, really got me was how the host and the celebrity characterized his childhood dancing. He expressed embarrassment about it, and the host was poking fun. I got very annoyed, and even a little angry at that reaction from both of them.
There is often a tendency by adults to look back on the things they did as kids taking art, dance, or music lessons, and to be embarrassed by them, or to downplay their importance. We joke about how silly we were, how childish we looked, or how terribly unskilled our performances were.
Please, please stop that kind of talk.
Now, I understand that we can have different feelings about what we do as children when we grow up and get a different perspective. I also suffer from a lot of self-imposed face-palming when I think of some of the stuff I did as a kid. We aren't always our most intelligent selves when we are growing up. But please, hear me clearly, if we express embarrassment at how we engaged in the arts while growing up, this can leave an incredibly deep impression on the kids in our own lives if they hear us.
My niece is six years old, and she had her first big dance recital earlier this month. She worked really hard to prepare, and she did a great job. It was also a delight to see the other dancers performing on a big stage in town. The dance studio did a great job of making it a wonderful and meaningful event in a historic location in our downtown. I was so proud of her! One thing I don't want her to ever feel is embarrassment for how she did on stage, or that she was up there at all. But if she hears the adults in her life talking in a self-deprecating way about the dance performances or recitals they did when they were children, she might learn that she should be embarrassed by her dancing. Or she might learn one day that she should be embarrassed by her dancing. I hope that never, ever happens.
If you were lucky enough to be able to participate in the arts as a kiddo, whether in school or in extra curricular activities, those experiences have shaped you. I understand that sometimes those experiences can be negative, but you still have nothing to be ashamed of. Kids are kids, and it is not only normal for them to do things that are age-appropriate for their skill level, and that are fun. It is not okay for adults to shame them for that, even if that adult is you looking back on your childhood self. Don't shame yourself for doing something that was completely normal and appropriate for your age.
So please, parents, teachers, adults, be very careful about expressing any kind of embarrassment or shame, even in a joking manner, about things you did as a kid. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT! You did a hard thing, putting yourself on stage as a kid, and that should be celebrated. Your feelings of pride and confidence can encourage the kiddos in your life now to also do the hard thing of performing on stage, and we can teach them to be proud of themselves instead of ashamed.
If you do have feelings of embarrassment or shame, I encourage you to dig down and get to the why behind those feelings. It may be that you are responding to someone else's thoughts about your performance, or some other cultural pressures that are invalidating your own experiences. Let me repeat again, if you did the hard thing of performing in front of people as a child in a child-appropriate way, you have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. And I'm proud of you for doing that. I hope you can be proud of yourself, too.
Voice teachers who work with adults often have to help their clients wade through the feelings that come with past experiences, and most of the feelings and experiences that are the hardest to work with have negativity or shame associated with them. Shame is so common in our society, and often completely undeserved, but it can put a huge barrier in the way of adults who want to learn how to express themselves through singing. I think often when we sift through those emotions, we'll find they have their roots in lies we learned as youngsters. But we can stop that cycle right this second by owning what we did as kids, reliving the fun parts of it, and jettisoning the lies that would diminish our experiences. It's not easy, but it's worth it, and it could make a HUGE difference in how the kids in your life view their own experiences. If you have trouble changing how you think about things for your own self, do it for the kiddos in your life that don't need any extra shame piled on. The world is hard enough.
If you resonate with this, I'd encourage you to share this post, and tell me what your thoughts are. How have you engaged with your past experiences? How do you see your friends and colleagues thinking about how they participated in the arts when they were kids? Talking about it can help us to eliminate that unearned stigma of childish pursuits. We can be proud of ourselves!