In a little more than a year, my son will be a teenager. Frankly, I’m scared.
Connor can be a challenge now. But my job as a dad will likely get even harder when he turns 13.
I worry about his possible exposure to drugs, alcohol and sex. I’m not naïve. He’ll be tempted to do things he shouldn’t.
How should I prepare him to make good choices? I saw a book recently that made me think. It’s called The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon by David Elkind.
“The concept of childhood, so vital to the traditional American way of life, is threatened with extinction in the society we have created,” Elkind writes. “Today’s child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress – the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations.”
I’m afraid he’s right. Kids grow up quicker than ever before – long before they probably should. Childhood is no longer a protected period of incubation. We no longer have the luxury of protecting our kids until they’re ready to leave the nest and fly on their own.
While still in the nest, kids are bombarded with media messages that can confuse and overwhelm them. What can parents do to help them survive the onslaught?
Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University, offers some hope by identifying the problems.
He divides the 244-page book into 10 chapters. They include The Dynamics of Hurrying: Parents, The Dynamics of Hurrying: Schools, and The Dynamics of Hurrying: The Media.
The Causes of the Hurried Child
Parents can be part of the problem, Elkind writes.
“Parents hurry children when they insist that they acquire academic skills, like reading, at an early age,” he says. “Indeed, some programs now promise parents that they can teach their children to read as infants and toddlers. The desire of parents to have their children read early is a good example of parental pressure to have children grow up too fast generally.”
Schools also pressure kids unnecessarily by emphasizing achievement testing at a young age, Elkind writes.
“The factory model of education hurries children because it ignores individual differences in mental abilities and learning rates and learning styles,” he says. “Children are pressured to meet uniform standards as measured by standardized tests. Those who cannot keep up in this system … are often regarded as defective vessels and are labeled ‘learning disabled,’ or ADHD (Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder.”
I can speak to this problem personally. Connor attends a private school for kids with learning differences. Even though he’s intelligent, he simply couldn’t keep up with the workload and uniform teaching style in a traditional school. His frustration and sense of failure grew until, fortunately, I found his current school.
Now, he’s much calmer and happier. He acts like a kid – instead of a worker trying to keep up with his boss’ demands.
In his chapter on the media, Elkind targets TV, movies, magazines, music, advertising and the Internet. It’s disheartening as a parent to think of all the adult messages kids receive through the media that we’re virtually powerless to stop.
The author cites some disturbing statistics:
- Children consume 40 hours of media a week and 20,000 commercials a year.
- Corporations spend more than $12 billion a year marketing to children – well over 20 times the amount spent 10 years ago.
- The United States regulates advertising to children less than most other democratic nations.
Discouraged yet? Frankly, I am.
Parenting seems like a losing proposition. How can we counter all the negative influences hurled at kids and let them mature gradually into responsible, well adjusted young adults?
Elkind stresses awareness. Be aware of the pressures on kids and do your part to mitigate them. Extend their childhood as long as possible.
He ends the book with this compelling passage:
“Valuing childhood does not mean seeing it as a happy innocent period but, rather, as an important period of life to which children are entitled. It is the children’s right to be children, to enjoy the pleasures, and to suffer the pains of a childhood that is infringed by hurrying.”
We want our kids to achieve. We want them to be mature. But don’t rush them through childhood. Control the messages they receive so they can enjoy being young, while still being ready for adulthood.