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 A Child’s Journey To Adulthood

Every child grows up and develops skills at their own pace. Child development is genetic and involves internal changes that can occur in children during their youth. There are internal and external factors that affect a child’s development and growth. In Heather O’Neill’s novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby is a 12-year-old daughter of a 26-year-old single father and heroin addict, Jules, who live in an inferior part of downtown-Montreal trying to survive the hardships of living with impecuniosity. It is evident that poor parenting can affect a child’s habits and views while growing up. In addition, living in poverty creates challenges that one must suffer through mentally, socially, and physically. Furthermore, exposing a child to illegal activities at an early age can adapt to this lifestyle. In Heather O’Neill’s novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, the author illustrates Baby being raised with poor parenting, her exposure to illegal activities, and how living in poverty negatively affects her child development.

Inadequate parenting can negatively affect a child’s habits and morals growing up. In the novel, Jules exhibits characteristics of poor parenting through the way he raises Baby. Jules constantly swears around Baby without realizing she may pick up this habit. According to Bandura’s social learning theory, by observing the actions of others, children develop new skills and acquire information (Cherry). Baby, a 12-year old, proves this theory when she calls her doll a “little bitch” simply because she is frustrated (40). As a result of hearing a lot of profanity by Jules, Baby develops this habit as well. Being a young parent requires maturity and the sacrifices of putting a child’s needs before oneself. Jules forgets the responsibility of a parent and switches roles with Baby. For example, Baby tries to convince Jules a tattoo is something “you [cannot] erase” (86). Baby uses a firm tone as she tries to persuade Jules not to get a tattoo. Baby is obligated to take on the adult role of worrying if they can afford basic necessities or depending on herself to find the love she needs and desires. As a result, it forces her to mature quickly and stress about the responsibilities of a parent rather than treasuring the experiences of still being a child. Furthermore, his unstable and selfish behavior isolates Baby from the only family member she knows and forces her to depend on friends that are a bad influence. Jules’ addiction forces him to leave Baby months at a time while he seeks treatment in a rehabilitation center. If Jules’ realizes his responsibility of being a parent and avoids the chances of relapsing for Baby, he did not have to send her “to a center for rejected children, [she would not] have become such good friends with Alphonse. [She] would be a virgin” (206). His constant failures to stay sober results in his inability to take care of Baby for the past year. While Jules is unable to realize the impact that his decisions have on Baby, her desire to make sense of the world leads her to the exposure of illegal activities.

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Growing up in poverty can restrict a child’s growth and development in the future. After being in a detention center, Baby is unable to go back to her old “high school” because she is a “system kid” (158). The current school program she is in is specifically for children who perform poorly in academics and helps them focus on life skills. However, this program cannot mentally challenge her capability of attaining knowledge way above her class. Baby is unable to flourish and challenge herself to create a future full of opportunities as a means to escape poverty. In addition, the ‘Family Stress Model’ proposes that poverty can contribute emotional distress and family dysfunction (Ahmend). Family distresses can cause problems in the relationship of adults that links to less effective parenting. In school, Baby makes a new friend, Lauren, and invites her over for dinner. When Lauren meets Jules and sees the aggression of him towards Baby, she immediately runs away. With the family dysfunction, Lauren “[gossips] to everyone about [her]”, not because Baby did her wrong, but because of the abnormal relationship between her and Jules (80). As a result, she “[did not] want to be friends with anyone at school” (81). Due to the lack of interaction with friends at school, Baby will have trouble talking to others and developing her social skills that can be a necessity to get a job or develop relationships. Lastly, children living in poverty are at a greater risk of behavioural and emotional problems according to the American Psychological Association (‘Effects of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness on Children and Youth’). This is demonstrated when Baby and Theo break into a house and destroy its contents. They also steal things they deem is worth stealing. This shows Baby’s impulsive behaviour and her little to no regard of the consequences. As Baby makes impulsive decisions without thinking about the consequences, the society she lives in deems wrong moral activities acceptable.

In an environment where illegal activities are deemed normal, a child is unable to see the negative effects on their thoughts and development. “As children grow, curiosity propels them to enjoy broader, more complex encounters” (Eastern Florida State College | Eastern Florida State College – Home). With Baby growing up in a setting of “cheap hotels and strip joints”(24), she unconsciously conforms to the idea of “prostitutes and drug dealers [doing] their business all day long” as a normal setting (225). Baby’s surroundings with “prostitutes always around” eases the idea of her becoming one later on in the story (7). In addition, the absence of people telling her about the dangers of using heroin, she “never [thinks] of heroin as a terrible, frightening thing” (239). With the surroundings of drugs, Baby connects happiness as the equivalent of it. This is demonstrated when Baby says that Jules and his friends make her “laugh so much” and are “the coolest group of humans” (63). When she tries drugs, specifically marijuana, “pretty phrases and ideas” consume her thoughts (121). As a result, Baby becomes addicted to drugs as an escape from reality because it helps her forget the “ugly insecure things” (121). In addition, prostitution is an activity that is seen as normal in the book which Baby’s curiosity to see if she can find love. Her vulnerability of searching for unconditional love gives Alphonse, a pimp, an opportunity to manipulate her that he can give the love and attention she yearns for. Baby believes if someone wants “to get a child to love [him or her]… they should hide for three or four hours… and that child will turn you to God” (48). With Baby being an example of a child who is manipulated into child prostitution in return for love and attention, she is exposing herself to toxic relationships affecting her ability to trust others and look for healthy relationships in the future. This is displayed with Alphonse physically abusing her by “[slapping] on both sides of her face” when he sees her with Xavier (240). Growing up in a society that adapts illegal activities as normal, children are more likely to be curious and try it themselves.

In conclusion, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, clearly shows the negative effects on child development through examples of poor parenting, the curiosity of illicit activities, and the lifestyle of indigence. With her single father unable to fulfill his responsibility as a parent, she picks up bad habits and depends on others for support. In addition, living in poverty puts Baby in a place where the opportunities are limited to succeed in life, as a result, she will continue living in poverty. As well as the drugs she is exposes herself to gives her the opportunity to become an addict and use it as a way to escape her problems. Lastly, Baby will have difficulty looking for healthy relationships from experiencing Alphonse’s manipulation for her being a child prostitute. Baby’s quick development to mature strips away her opportunity to experience a ‘normal’ childhood while living with an incompetent father in a poverty-stricken city.

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