THERE is a moment that solidifies the substance of any theory. It happened to me in a queue for a 99 at an ice-cream van in Stirling when temperatures were nudging towards the levels when polar bears decide it’s time for a night in, a seal supper and a peek at the latest David Attenborough documentary.

The theory had nothing to do with the absurdity of eating ice cream in a veritable ice age. This is only daft to people who do not live in a perpetual deep freeze, that is, non-Scots. It had nothing to do with the reckless irresponsibility of abandoning briefly my granda duties. I still had my eyes on my granddaughter. She was, after all, only two behind me in the queue.

No, there was more profound realisation. It was this: these strange times have prompted the infantilisation of adults and the premature ageing of infants.

The first proposition is easily proved. The advent of a routine spell of snow and ice has sent the adult population into paroxysms of, well, childish behaviour. There have been the mandatory postings of photies on social media of Glasgow/Edinburgh/a back garden in the snow. These have been accompanied by captions so breathless in wonder that one looks again to confirm one is not viewing the hitherto unprecedented sight of Elvis on a unicorn in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in a sleet storm. But, nope, it’s just a picture of it being snowy on Byres Road.

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It has also sent the adult population on to rivers, through woods and on to sledges. No.1 son has invested in a plastic sliding thingy. The theory of infantilisation gathers strength when one sees from his social media posts that his commitment to giving the weans a go seems only to exist in principle.

There are other symptoms of covid-induced wean syndrome. Every young man (and some very old ones) seems to believe it is mandatory to wear shorts. Lidl Possil is thus resembling a catwalk for summer wear though the white legs and blue veins raise memories of those afternoons in Manhattan peering at the New York subway map.

There is also the fear and loathing of schools that has been revisited upon a generation who believed they had escaped the classroom but now find that they are paying a mortgage on the classroom and auditioning – with rising degrees of desperation – as teachers.

This has reduced many, understandably, to the emotional stability of toddlers who have been told that they are going to bed, they are not getting their favourite dummy and their much-loved teddy bear has been placed on ebay.


All the above symptoms are, of course, largely harmless in the long run. All this shall pass. The regression to the powerlessness of childhood can induce more serious issues but largely a generation of adults embracing their inner wean is more funny than tragic, though the wearer of the denim shorts in the vegetable aisle strays perilously close to the latter.

The more disturbing aspect is that of children growing old before their time. This can be summarised crudely but accurately as weans not being allowed to be weans. The modern child normally has a social life only experienced in the last century by a society hostess or in an earlier era by Marie Antoinette in one of her friskier weeks.

Weans of today once had nurseries, swimming lessons, book clubs (particularly and wonderfully for those too young to read), and mass buggy walks around various locales where mums, dads and weans could interact with others. This was life-enhancing, an aid to social, intellectual and emotional skills and, of course, fragile to the wiles of covid.

There was much to be celebrated about being a modern child or, at least, a modern child divorced from the dreadful abyss of hunger and fuel poverty. The fortunate child could expect routine comfort and gentle stimulation in the form of games and company. The imminent return of nurseries and some primary school classes next is a welcome development. The world will suddenly become a little bit larger for some children.


But the effects of lockdown are largely unknown. There is the theory that children have been led into the realities of adult life prematurely. It is hard to argue with this proposition, given that younger children have unavoidably been confronted with realities beyond their ken.

My granddaughter (four going on 27) speaks eloquently about the danger of The Germs. She has become attuned to imperatives of life in the league year. Grandparents are not to be hugged but to be viewed on FaceTime. Friends are placed on hold, except those who also have parents who are key workers and can be encountered in a nursery class of just three. Swimming is a vague memory. Holidays a distant hope.

Those older children – those who are approaching adulthood – also have had to abandon the accepted norms with an abrupt suddenness. Their world has been reduced to being taught by a harassed parent at the mercy of dodgy wifi with fears rising that the world is not only leaving them behind but that they will never catch up. It is the stuff of anxiety dreams at a time of their lives when the gamut of apprehension to downright horror needs no further invitation to intrude on their lives.

The toddlers are robbed of their innocence while the older children are reminded constantly that life is crap but could get a lot worse.

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The reduction of adults to a younger self can carry dangers beyond bringing on embarrassment but the plight of our children and grandchildren is a cause for obvious and profound concern. The vulnerable section of society in this pandemic is not those of us who faced the increased rate of mortality in this awful disease. It is those who have suffered an abbreviated, perverted childhood and face the long-term consequences of this plague.

They must be helped to grow. They must be encouraged to step from this shadow. They must be nurtured by personal, parental and state resources. There will be a line for help in the aftermath of covid. Our children must be at the head of the queue.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.