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This I Believe: I Believe in Staying Young

Essayist Zoe Salter

I believe in staying young.

Middle school is different than elementary school. There’s a sudden weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I am no longer shepherded from class to class by a chaperone. My peers expect me to be older and different than I was in elementary school, even though it’s just the difference of one summer. But there are some parts of me that remain the same, that still dream of playing with dolls and talking about my favorite Disney princess. There’s also a part of me that still wants to use tiny plastic figures to build worlds with my sister. Some kids experience this as only a small melancholy tug in the back of their mind. Some kids, on the other hand, experience it a bit more deeply, but pretend to ignore it.

On the first day of middle school, recess was uncomfortable. Nobody knew anyone and I, like many others, just awkwardly sat with the kids who went to the same elementary school as me. Nobody played. We just all sat like zombies and made small talk, wishing we could be somewhere else. The next day, I branched out. I asked a few kids in my math class if they wanted to play with me. We figured out we had a lot in common! Instead of sitting and talking, we played a fun, wonky game together. 

I believe it is important to be able to play hide and seek and imaginary games not only in middle school, but throughout the rest of my life. Sometimes at recess, if other kids are just sitting and talking, it makes me feel self-conscious that I want to play games. But if I want to play, I do it. I don’t let my insecurities drag me down. I believe a lot of kids feel the same thing, maybe even more than I think.  When I’m more open, I discover other kids who also want to play.

It’s really important to be able to stay young in spirit. In middle school, this means playing at recess and still liking little kid movies and books. In high school, this could mean watching Dora the Explorer, not just for nostalgic reasons, but because you actually enjoy it. Also--and this is very important--still making time to play outside after school. Sometimes teachers think kids will just play on a Nintendo or an X-box, but kids NEED time to play outside and have fun after school. Really, I think this applies to people of all ages. 

Grown-ups sometimes don’t understand a child’s need for playtime and fun. They think homework means that we’ll have less time to get in trouble and do bad things. Sometimes that’s the case. But oftentimes it isn’t. Every single kid in the world wants to stay young. They may tell themselves that they don’t, that they are super ready to be mature, but I believe every kid has the spark of childhood inside of them. Some kids have it so big that it just wants to seep out and explode. If that’s you, have no fear. Play. Make up a game with your friends.

I believe in staying young.

Zoe Salter is a 6th grader at Delta Middle School in State College.