Throughout elementary school and on up through middle school, kids are asked 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' by just about everyone. Teachers, parents, friends … everyone is curious.

Back then, your response was your dream. Many wanted to be a firefighter, astronaut, police officer, or a doctor. I remember while growing up I thought it would be awesome to be a marine biologist. But then again, the only thing I knew about marine biology was that I would be able to play with the dolphins.

Entering high school, that all changes.

All of a sudden, that question becomes too real, too fast. Through freshman and sophomore years in high school, it is easy to get caught in the social life and not think about your future what so ever. However, by the time you forecast your schedule for junior year, you're expected to pretty much know what career field you're interested in.

All of a sudden those kids who wanted to be a superhero, an astronaut, or even a firefighter, are told that they have to start thinking about a more realistic job. The pressure to decide on your future career choice comes at you hard and fast, like water bursting through a dam and hitting you square in the face.

Why can't we just stay kids? Why can't we live in Never Never Land with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys? Why can't we go back to the times when all we had to decide was what type of sandwich to have for lunch?

Right now, as a junior, I really have to think a lot about my future. That big bad place known as the 'real world' doesn't seem too far away. And I'll be honest; it's pretty scary. At this age, we're stuck between wanting to stay a kid, yet knowing we're growing up.

Because of our educational system, we're forced to grow up a little before we may be ready to. We're forced to take on the responsibilities of learning time management, organizational skills, and self-discipline at such a ridiculously early age that we don't have time to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood. In high school we're ready for those responsibilities, but we shouldn't have been made to take them on in the fifth grade.

The burdens and responsibilities that we are faced with in school from such an early age don't give us the chance to really savor childhood like we should. The tedious work that we slave over each night when we come home from school pries us away from potential memories in the making. Instead of enjoying ourselves and taking full advantage of childhood, we're stuck inside doing homework.

I acknowledge the strong points in our educational system and understand that it is there for our benefit. We are truly blessed to have such an opportunity. But I think that we are faced with too much pressure and responsibility too soon. At the age of 10, we have to take on responsibilities that we shouldn't face until we're about 14.

Childhood is one of the many things in life that only comes once. For me, it feels as if I've left that behind. Today's youth are pressured more and more to look to the future at a continuously younger age.

One thing that needs to be stressed in our society today is that kids need to be kids. They need to enjoy youth while they have it because before long, it will all be a distant memory.

Jon Helmkamp is a junior at West Linn High School and a Tidings student columnist for the 2006-07 school year.

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