It may sound like I’m stating the blindingly obvious, but in order for one to lose innocence, one has to be sure of even having it within their grasp in the first place. If we consider innocence to only exist within childhood, then we must also ask the question, when do we cease to be children? In short, the objectification of innocence is sensational and misleading. We cannot talk of a loss of innocence because nobody really knows if they were ever innocent in the first place.
For the purposes of many a British newspaper, the loss of innocence seems to hinge on young people ‘growing up’. But isn’t this a rather Christianised, sensationalised way of looking at things? When we talk about ‘losing innocence’ we do so with negative connotations, but surely the media’s perception of what constitutes innocence is reductive to the point that we ignore the progressive realities of entering into new stages of our lives. In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield laments the prospect of growing up and wishes that the innocent ‘world of childhood’ would prevail. Adult life seems complex and deterring. In many ways, we, as university students, are amid the transition that will see us lose the innocence that the media put upon us, and, if the tabloids are to be believed, become an intrinsic part of ‘Broken Britain’. But losing the innocent things that make us children, namely virginity, sobriety and naivety, does not represent the onslaught of degeneration and corruption, although it may be daunting to those on the precipice, like Caulfield.
When something is lost, it is usually always replaced by something new that is gained from the experience of losing. When we grow up, have sex, get drunk, learn new things, we partake in a process of maturity. Whether we like it or not, our innocence, tenuous a term though it is, will gradually deplete. And I see this as no bad thing. The more we know, the more we are able to contribute to our societies, our families and ourselves. We get jobs, educate ourselves, earn money and probably have families of our own. I’d say that this is called the passing of time, as opposed to the ‘loss’ of innocence. Innocence is often synonymous with childhood, but there is no reason to detract from what we’ve learned in order to capture something irretrievable. Nostalgia is a poignant emotion, but not something that we should wish to be a reality.
I often wonder what would happen if we were to retain the innocence that the media condemns us for losing. After all, the loss of innocence is nearly always cited as a ‘bad’ thing. I would agree that lots of teenagers extend the boundaries of what is acceptable, but what they’ve lost isn’t innocence, it’s respect. I’m sure that being ignorant to the realities of life isn’t a state that we should wish upon anybody.
The Internet is often cited as the guilty culprit of our increasingly ‘guilty’ society, but sometimes we are at risk of forgetting how much good has come from it. Whilst it is important to control what can be consumed via the Internet, there is no need to lament the change that this generation of young people have experienced. Children aren’t growing up faster, and entertaining this clichéd impossibility displays ignorance to the fact that they are simply growing up differently. Exposure is important, to a point, and the luddite attitude that is emerging may perhaps prevent young people from experiencing the full extent of the technological change that is currently underway. Although I would never undermine the importance of protecting children, there is no need to use cotton wool in a fallible attempt to prevent the imagined loss of innocence.
Referring to the term ‘innocence’ is sensationalist and outdated in today’s society. It is used to condemn young adults for growing up and partaking in natural, normal experiences and to express a desire to needlessly prolong a young person’s naivety. The popular use of the phrase ‘loss of innocence’ is, by all accounts, redundant, because we have lost any true perspective of what innocence is. In fact, we’re in danger of stepping on Holden’s toes.