If you were a child development or even an education major in college back in the 1980s you may have read David Elkind’s original effort called “The Hurried Child.” This is the 25th anniversary edition of his initial work that really sent shock waves through the education and child psychology rank and file back in it’s day. This special edition has a lot of the original principles, but has updated studies and takes an real look at the still evolving media that has developed since the 80s (the internet, cell phones, lapware for little kids, etc.) The progress in the last 25 years, if you think about it, is truly amazing. But it’s also mind boggling how it plays into the growing up of our children. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he has to say, the book will help you stop and review the world your child experiences or deals with at home and school on a daily basis. A few general observations from the book I thought were interesting.
First, the concept that kids today in many cases are hurried to act, dress and even talk like adults has given the grownups a false sense of their child’s true maturity level. The idea of letting children be children and let them think and play as children naturally do is one that is being lost on several different levels. The way children dress are encouraged to dress is a basic example of how this process is carried out. Elkind points out that even young children wear many of the same types of clothes that adults wear, some even keeping with the alluring look that many adults sport.
A Hurried child is also evident in society’s influence on parents to get them started early academically. Early learning is a huge pull for parents, but study after study show that kids that are not immersed in early learning such as learning the alphabet or even basic reading before kindergarten catch up quickly within the early elementary school years. In fact, some studies show that children confronted with the task of learning to read before they are mentally ready for it, can actually develop long term learning disabilities.
A “Dollar and Cents Camp” in Florida where kids as young as eleven listen to lectures and learn about mutual funds and how to read the Wall Street Journal.
Another example given is how summer camps have evolved. Sure there are still the summer session where kids can still go swimming in a lake , hiking, sailing, archery, etc., but think about all the “camps” that are sports related. You name a sport and there is a camp that will teach a child all the finer points to get an edge on the competition. Elkind even mentions a “Dollar and Cents Camp” in Florida where kids as young as eleven listen to lectures and learn about mutual funds and how to read the Wall Street Journal. He contends children need time to grow up and develop at all fronts. Treating children differently from adults is not discriminatory, it’s appropriate and allows for their growing state.
The effects of some types of older and conventional media are effectively lined out in this and previous editions, but specifically in this latest edition, he addresses computer technology, especially that which is aimed at very young kids. Computer technology has given birth to all sorts of software and applications that can help kids to learn and even grasp the research process, but Elkind has serious doubts about the emergence of “Lapware” for infants and toddlers. While he admits the jury is still out on any harm to very young child, at the very least, he lists several different researchers that contend the benefits of such computer applications are overstated and market their products to parents anxious to provide the best for their kids. The potential harm ranges from over stimulation of the child, to focusing him or her too much on the visual part of their senses to the neglect of other information coming in from other senses that are still developing. Sensory integration, or the blending and matching of the different senses to form a total picture is important.
The Internet is likely the biggest change over the last twenty years that affects the whole family. It has it’s glorious advantages that allow you to talk, research, listen or even watch video for instruction or entertainment. However, like many blessings, there are more than a few people willing and able to take people, including kids, down the dark and unseemly side of life. That content, without some sort of monitor, can provide material that young children are not ready to see. Parental vigilance has always been a staple for these kinds of potholes, but with more parents working even that filter is not what it use to be. Electronic gatekeepers can put limits on some elements of the internet, but they are far from perfect.
This book’s purpose is not to scare parents, but to simply make them aware of what’s happening to children in general. “The Hurried Child” is a book that in it’s original edition is still very applicable today. The takeaway I got from this book is that all of us as parents need to know what our kids are ready for developmentally. We should know them best. If they’re showing an interest and ready to learn to read, for example, go ahead. But if they don’t show an interest early, pushing them into it, especially preschool age or younger, can be discouraging and give them a bad taste they’ll remember. Reading to them can be a great and healthy stimulator.
Above all, children at all ages need play. Elkind sees children allowed time to really play, imagine, and observe their world without pressure to produce or achieve is their antidote to the hurrying they get elsewhere. It’s part of what Elkind calls a basic right of a child…their right to a childhood.
Read some of David Elkind’s blog contributions