Hugh Reilly: Stick up for kids' right to a real childhood

That's the thing about kids; they quickly become adults before your very eyes, especially when you force-grow them. Some time ago, I visited a friend who had fathered a toddler to a much younger woman.

As we were about to eat, I helpfully made to pick up the kid to sit him in the high chair. The mother dashed in from the kitchen and said assertively: "Please put him down. He can manage on his own, thank you." I watched disbelievingly as junior struggled to scale the south-west face of the structure, climbing it like a mini-Mallory, because, I suppose, it was there.

When he peaked by parking his posterior in the seat, I said: "Your din-dins will be coming soon." Big mistake. Mum, with ears like a hawk and a face to match, overheard my childish chatter.

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"We'd rather you use more mature language than that infantile gibberish," she said through a sardonic smile. On hearing her stinging request, I immediately stopped pulling funny faces for the child's amusement. "We've read that toddlers understand more words and concepts than you would imagine," she concluded. To test her internet findings, I carried out some research of my own. I asked Tiny for his thoughts on the Arab Spring. He smiled and gurgled but his thrashing feet betrayed his unease with the whole Middle East geo-political situation. At one point, I believed a bootee was about to fly off in my direction!

More recently, while being dragged through a shopping mall, I saw a young girl sitting in a dentist-like chair with her head tilted backwards, her eyes closed. A tall woman dressed in black moved towards her with an implement in her right hand. For a moment I thought I had stumbled upon a CIA PR exercise to calm the UK public's concerns regarding enhanced interrogation techniques. Happily, my girlfriend reassured me we were merely witnessing an early sexualisation rite of passage whereby a loving mother pays a beautician to apply heavy slap to a wee lassie's face in preparation for her Princess party.

Call me chauvinistic, but little girls should be out playing with skipping ropes or kicking a peever, not enjoying a makeover followed by a manicure. I hesitate to say they should be playing doctors and nurses in case some dolt of a mother pops into Ann Summers and asks for a nurse's outfit to suit ages 8-10.

We know kids are being robbed of their childhood but we say nothing for fear of being branded fuddy-duddies. I wouldn't swap my childhood for all the Facebook entries, texts and smartphones in the world. As a kid, I loved playing cowboys and Indians (cow management operatives and Native Americans, for the politically correct). It should have been a heated discussion to decide who would act out which role but the sad fact was that the saps were the Injuns and the strong were the John Waynes and Gary Coopers.The Indian wars fought in the black hills of Glasgow's backcourts were a classic example of asymmetric warfare (I would not be surprised to learn that the military tactics employed are required reading at Sandhurst). A freckle-faced brave on the warpath wielding a plastic Woolworths tomahawk was no match for a cowpoke with a pop-gun. If fired indoors during inclement weather, the carbine could launch a cork projectile and kill an onrushing Apache standing in the lobby, some six yards distant. However, if triggered outdoors on a windy day, the accuracy range of the rifle was reduced to four feet. Squaws - sorry, girls - added to the bloodcurdling atmosphere by shrieking and ululating as we rode into the Indian camp astride our Raleigh and Eagle bikes.

With hindsight, even back then some mothers were a tad overprotective. Perhaps fearful of wee Johnny being blinded, one lad was forced to wear his NHS specs during a gunfight. Other mums fretted that such macho games might lead to their little lad becoming a bully, but the ploy of buying a cowboy hat with fringes hanging from the brim backfired when, in later years, the youngster cited it as the catalyst for his sexual identity crisis.

In my opinion, it's high time parents started treating kids like, erm, kids. Decent adults need to circle the wagons and defend a kid's right to enjoy a carefree childhood.