Geeking Science: The Aliens Among Us

Photo by Thanh Tran on Unsplash

Why do I love writing about children so much? Because they are the closest to alien thinking we adults experience. Concrete vs. Abstract thinking is such a big gulf.

I love the mene of working with children (babysitting, being a kindergarten teacher, being a parent) is like being an ambassador to beings from another planet and teaching them how to assimilate to our culture.

No, eating fire or dirt is not the best nutrition option on this planet. Sorry, your ambassadorship, but gravity works a bit different here – if you throw something, it will break. Your excellency, I don’t mean to imply anything, but what exactly were you thinking when you did this?

Part of it is everything really is new to them. They are still testing if gravity is consistent everywhere, why are some things good to eat and others not, and what is all this history that happened before they got here that they are expected to understand. Children really need diplomatic attaches to survive in the alien world they’ve been thrust into.

Terrell (in Honestly and Home Cooking Part 1) reacts differently to Mr. Troy’s disability, and very much needs all the adults in his life to keep him together and dressed. Scott (in It’s Dirty and Memory of a Lifetime) is slightly younger than Terrell and goes off the rails a lot more. I don’t think I will ever do a POV inside a child’s head simply because I cannot conceive what they are thinking. 

Things like – a child believes that by staying out of their bedroom, bedtime won’t happen. Because bedtime is associated with the bedroom. Or how my niece K (mentioned in my editing rant this month) didn’t want to write the character having problems because she really couldn’t dissociate herself from the character and she didn’t want to deal with the problems.

The cognitive difference between concrete and abstract thinking is fascinating. I love using fiction to explore it. And I sometimes let the difference in thinking bleed into exploring alien creatures, such as in Grass.

All of the amazement and exasperation in the differences between adults and children especially comes out in classic teen question “What were you thinking?” We expect the adult-sized children to understand cause-and-effect (which they do) and apply it to every situation, especially complicated ones (which they can’t) that we adults know from experience and shared stories is a beyond-dumb idea. They don’t have experience, their friends haven’t survived through the experience to tell the story, and they just don’t think that many steps ahead.

“Look mom, we did think it through. I made sure there was a mattress for when we fall.” “But mattresses have springs. You bounced!” “Mattresses have springs?”

These aliens live among us.

How about you? Are there aspects in children – from baby, through toddler, to teen – which make you geek? Do you have any stories to share?


“Cognitive Development in the Teen Years”. Stanford Children’s Health. Last viewed 10/2/2019.