In a world that pushes kids too fast, let's let childhood linger a little longer.

My 11-year-old daughter plops down next to me on the couch, curling her legs up into a ball.

She says nothing, but her furrowed brow makes it clear something is bothering her. “What the matter?” I ask, praying it’s not something horrible. (I always pray it’s not something horrible.)

She takes a deep breath as her eyes fill with tears. “Everything is changing,” she says. “Everybody’s growing up . . . and I’m not ready yet.


Oh, my sweet girl. I remember having this same conversation with her older sister at this age. My kids have deeply cherished their childhoods. They lament when they feel time accelerating, their bodies transforming, their friends moving away from imaginary games and shared childhood fantasies. As galloping gives way to girl talk, make-believe morphs into make-up, and pirates and princesses get replaced with periods and pimples, they mourn.

And as much as I dislike seeing my children unhappy, I’m glad.

I’d much rather my kids hold onto childhood than hurry into adolescence or adulthood.

They will have the rest of their lives to be grown-ups—I see no reason to rush any of it.

But my daughters’ reluctance to grow up feels like a stark contrast with the dominant culture, where children are pushed by the media, their peers, and sometimes even their parents, to grow up faster than they should. The quintessential hallmarks of childhood–play, imagination, innocence—are fleeting in a society simultaneously obsessed with reality TV banality and academic achievement. Clothes, games, and media are marketed to tweens with an eye to making them into mini-adult consumers. Television programming purportedly aimed at teens is more often consumed by tween-and-younger audiences.

But it’s not just the trickle down of adult media and pop culture that concerns me.

For years, I’ve been surprised by how few school-aged children we see in parks or forest preserves during non-school hours. Most of the time, the only people we run into at such places are parents with babies and toddlers. Where are the big kids?

It’s no secret that we live in an era of scheduled activities and increasingly competitive everything. And while organized sports or other extracurriculars can be highly beneficial, they also consume a lot of a child’s time. Add heaps of homework at earlier and earlier ages, plus the lure of screen time, plus parental fears of sending children to explore outside (either because of the fear of child molesters or nosy neighbors who will call CPS), and we’re left with kids who are missing out on the educational and emotional benefits of free, active, imaginative play.

To be clear, I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t have any cares or responsibilities.

I’m a big fan of chores, reasonably high expectations, and community involvement, and I think those aspects of maturity are healthy for kids to get familiar with early and often. It’s the over-scheduling and the “Rated M for Mature” world that I think kids deserve to be shielded from. The taking away of recess and art class to make time for test prep. The thong underwear made for tweens. The social media world that encourages social ranking and cyberbullying.

Being a parent in the age of non-stop media is tough. Marketers know what they’re doing. But unless parents take an active role in limiting exposure to and mitigating the effects of advertising and popular culture, our kids will internalize the idea that childhood ends somewhere around age eight. That’s not something I’m willing to accept.

We can’t protect our kids from everything, but we can do our best to protect childhood.

It may seem paradoxical, but I believe that giving kids the time, space, and shelter to be children as long as they need to actually helps them mature more quickly when the time comes. Just as a butterfly stays cocooned in its chrysalis until it’s wings are fully developed, living a full childhood begets a healthy adulthood. I see it happening now with my older daughter. I’m amazed at how much she’s changed and matured since those days of lamenting about growing up. Now, at 15, she talks about how glad she is to have lived a full childhood and relished her childlike innocence while she could. That feels good to her. And it feels right to me.

So I put my arm around my middle child and wipe away her tears. “You are going to grow up,” I tell her. “Everyone does. But you don’t have to let go of being a kid just yet. You’ll eventually move on from the things you like to do now. But there’s no rush. Take your time and enjoy your childhood while it lasts.”

She smiles and nods, gives me a long, fierce hug, then gallops off to play.

This post originally appeared on Motherhood and More. You can read it here.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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