by David Elkind, Ph. D.
A book review
As a homeschooling parent I have acknowledged one benefit I find in homeschooling is that I can control (to an extent) how fast my children grow up. While at activities the boys participate in with other children not homeschooled, I am amazed at the adult content of these public and private schooled children’s speech and actions. Even more amazing to me are their parents’, “Whatcha gonna do?” attitudes; as in “Whatcha gonna do? They all have girlfriends at 10 nowadays.” Ummmm….Really??? Or “Well they are going to turn 16 and then we will have to let them drive.” Really???? Wow. I beg to differ.
The Hurried Child is not a homeschool book. I don’t believe the concept of homeschooling is even discussed in it. What the book is, is a commentary on the phenomenon our society has created by being in a hurry and hurrying our children.
“Although the pressure to get things done more quickly and efficiently has positive benefits—it has made us the most innovative society on earth—it has its drawbacks, such as producing impatience. For all our technological finesse and sophisticated façade, we are a people who cannot—will not—wait. Compulsive about punctuality and using our time most efficiently,we become surly when forced to relax and wait our turn.” Ch. 10, p. 204
The notion that “earlier is better” pervades our society. Children are expected to read, write, and participate skillfully in sports and the arts earlier, possibly without the benefit of enjoyment. Schools have too much in the way of administration and not enough in the way of teachers who deal directly with students. Decisions about our children’s educations are dictated by the bottom line and reports and not the reality of what is happening to each individual child. We compare our schools and children to foreign models without taking into account that our society is fundamentally different and does not provide the same support system as those societies we wish to emulate. We fail to look at the consequences of the foreign models and the outcomes, failures and damages that those models create. Schools hurry through the labeling and assigning process and children who have different learning styles are often quickly labeled “learning disabled” and the chance to remove that tag from a child is rarely presented.
As a society we have allowed the television to come into our homes and dictate what our children are exposed to, without taking into account if our children are physically, mentally and emotionally ready to be bombarded with the ideas and images that are fired rapidly at the child.
Even children’s literature addresses more adult content and current events than formerly, and while that in itself may not be a bad thing, the manner in which these topics are addressed and followed up on can impact and stress our children, causing them to feel pushed forward before they are ready.
With the average parent working more and having less time to pre-approve music, computer games (educational or otherwise), a movie, television show, or book our children are allowed access to more than they have been in the past, without the consideration of whether or not the individual child is ready for it.
Elkind discusses several psychology theories of development and applies them to the reality of today’s child growing up in a world that is constantly on fast forward. Parents are more stressed and expect more from children. And he is not saying that responsibility is bad for children. But he does consider if a child should be responsible for the care and welfare of many things including being a support to a parent.
The effect of absentee parents, either missing due to work or work related travel, divorce, illness or death is a stress that caused children to hurry and grow up faster. Hurried parents are absent even when they are present and can cause a sense of insecurity in children. Hurried children, stressed children are tired children and their energy reserves are often depleted. Physical and emotional health and therefore performance in school and in relationships suffer.
Short-term affects of hurrying include illness, depression, falling behind, acting out, drinking and drug use. Long-term affect of hurrying may not be realized until years later. Whether a child is allowed to hurry or is demanded by circumstance to hurry the results are usually that areas of growth are left unfinished, foundations are shaky and problems will occur.
I don’t know that I learned many new ideas from The Hurried Child, but felt that many of my opinions were validated by Dr. Elkind’s work. The first half of the book was anecdotal and there for a bit easier to read. The second half involved more applied research and was a bit heavy with technical theories—not a read for before bedtime for me. But overall a thoughtful, well researched and relevant book.
The Hurried Child was NOT on my Spring Reading Thing list, but was definitely worth fitting in.