Children do not have a filter. Where most adults at least have a general idea of what is or isn’t appropriate to say in polite society, it’s only with years of rigorous social conditioning that you can make children grasp concepts like private property or not weeing yourself in public. There are bigger fish to fry than teaching them not to say or do the first thing that pops into their heads, and mostly they get away with it – they have cuteness on their side and in general any blame for their actions will be directed firmly towards their parents. Also, the inappropriate things they say are often very funny, which covers a multitude of sins.
Having been almost solely responsible for looking after my five-year-old and two-year-old during lockdown (I was furloughed, my wife wasn’t), I’d in fact sort of come to accept the lack of a filter as a useful thing, insofar as they usually just bellowed the thing they wanted at me (‘Sweets!’ ‘Ice cream!’ ‘YouTube’) and I would either wearily bring it to them, or withhold it as leverage to try to get them to do something edifying. True, it was difficult to stop the older child bellowing excitedly about the “cowonavirus” when we were making our obligatory daily trip to the park, to the obvious discomfort of literally everyone around us. But as a rule, social distancing had its upsides.
Now, of course, the situation has changed. We recently went to see the grandparents for the first time in six months. It was a joyous occasion: or at least it was until the older child declared that the meal his grandmother had cooked for him upon arrival was “too yucky”, and that he would not be participating. It was sort of hilarious, but also mortifying.
As the playgrounds have returned, so have the fits of apoplectic rage over who gets to play on what, now exacerbated by the removal of 50% of the swings – as if social distancing is a thing that exists on, say, a slide.
And genuinely, if there are people out there who have succeeded in getting their five-year-old to uncomplainingly put up with a face mask for longer than it takes for the novelty to wear off, I would be interested to hear what sort of brainwashing they have used to accomplish this.
Society is opening back up, and as it does so children are re-emerging from their lairs, ready to bring their filter-free wit and wisdom to bear on an adult society that actually has quite a lot on its plate at the moment. Here are five classics of the genre.
‘Why is your tummy so big?’
Look, you decide to have children, you sign up for low-level body shaming, at just the time in your life when the indignities of middle-age are really starting to kick in. Rolling with this is what your filter is for. #YesFilter for weakly smiling as your body is aggressively critiqued. And if a child innocently commenting on your middle-aged spread or receding hairline helps you embrace your own mortality then that’s a positive thing, kind of, maybe.
‘Why is that man so noisy?’
This is where you begin to pine for them to have a filter a bit more. Children are curious, and if a stranger looks or acts differently – they might be a bit overweight, or talking loudly on their phone – then they will quite possibly attract your progeny’s interest. As a rule, you’re likely to get into more trouble than them and, you never know, their observations will prompt useful and important chats that will help them grow as people. It’s pretty excruciating, mind.
As adults, we need a filter to get on in life, but there’s no doubt that not having one is part of the fun of being a kid.
‘This food is horrible’
Perhaps the most important part of an adult filter is the ability to pretend that things that are bad are actually fine. Without this ability, it is probably no joke to say that there probably wouldn’t actually be a human race left any more. Children possess no such filter, and while it remains fundamentally charming when they slag something or other off, the fact they’re often pointing out the elephant in the room can be harder to laugh off with a shrug.
‘I want to go home, NOW’
Lacking a filter, kids ultimately have a nuclear option that most adults who aren’t the president of the United States lack: if they are discomfited by a situation, they will explode into an incandescent ball of destructive, very uncute rage that will ruin everything for everyone until they exhaust themselves with anger, or are simply given what they want because life is too short. You need a filter to get on in life. But there’s no denying that not having one can be a good way to get sweets.
‘I’m not eating meat’
Sure, kids can be raging monsters of pure id, but let’s not forget that often their id tells them to do the right thing, unfettered by the cynicism of adults. After all, there are few adults alive who’ve done more for the planet than Greta Thunberg, a global environmental icon at 16 for telling unfiltered truths to the world’s adults. Still, when your seven-year-old declares, at dinner-time, that they will no longer be eating meat and will require alternative culinary arrangements, you sincerely wish they had filter enough to at least give you a heads up. And, of course, some filters can help you save the planet – a BRITA in your fridge and you’ll never need to splash out on single-use bottles of mineral water again.
Children don’t have a filter – and as we have established, this is largely hilarious, but also a reminder of why we as adults say #YesFilter: filters help us to stay sane, look out for each other, look out for the planet, and generally live happy lives. Say #YesFilter.
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