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Parenthood

Volume 1, Issue 29

The Hurried Child (25th Anniversary Edition)


Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon
Author: David Elkind, Ph.D.
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Release Date: January 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7382-1082-7

David Elkind, Ph.D., is Professor of Child Development


in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child develop-
ment at Tufts University. Through his writings,
media appearances, and lectures in the United
States and abroad, he is recognized as one of the
leading advocates for the preservation of
childhood. The author of more than a dozen
books including All Grown Up and No Place to
Go and The Power of Play, he lives in Boston
and on Cape Cod.

1. Infant Education. From a child develop-


Preface to the Twenty- ment point of view, perhaps the most
Fifth Anniversary Edition significant transformation in child life has
to do with the new attention to stimulating
When I wrote The Hurried Child in 1981, I had
infants and young children.
no inkling of the technological revolution that
was to come. Indeed, I wrote the manuscript 2. Out-of-Home Care for Young Children.
in pencil on lined, yellow pads, typed it up on Today, 12.5 million children, 63 percent of
an electrical typewriter, and sent the manu- the nation’s children under five, are in
script to the editor via parcel post. This new some type of child care each week.
introduction, written in 2006, was typed on a
computer and sent to the editor as an attach- 3. The Child As Consumer. Even the Girl
ment to an e-mail over the Internet. Scouts have been co-opted and now take
camping trips to the mall.
The electronic media have simply reinforced
our need to hurry and our ability to get things 4. Childhood Moves Indoors. When I first
done quickly. Much of this spills over into our wrote this book, I was most concerned
child rearing and eduction. Indeed the revolu- about the stress our culture placed on
tionary nature of the last quarter of a century children and the mental health consequences
is reflected in at least five new innovations in of continued emotional upset. Today, how-
the lives of children. ever, the sedentary lifestyle introduced by

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Parenthood
our new technologies makes child physical camps for children. Although there are still
health an equally important concern. many summer camps that offer swimming,
sailing, horseback riding, archery, and camp
5. The Technologically Empowered Student. fires—activities we remember from our own
The fifth and final innovation of the last childhood—an increasing number of summer
quarter of a century is one that I believe is camps offer specialized training in many differ-
positive and offers the most hope for the ent areas, including foreign languages, tennis,
future of children in our society: the baseball, dance, music, and even computers.
increasing penetration of computer tech-
nologies and programming in our schools. The change in the programs of summer
camps reflects the new attitude that the years
While emphasizing the changes that have of childhood are not to be frittered away by
come about since the first edition of this book, engaging in activities merely for fun. Rather,
I would be remiss if I did not also remark on the years are to be used to perfect skills and
what has remained the same. It still takes a abilities that are the same as those of adults.
mother nine months to carry a baby to term.
The ages at which children learn to walk, There are many other pressures as well. Many
talk, and learn the three Rs have not changed, children today travel across the country, and
even with all the effort to introduce them indeed across the world, alone. The so-called
earlier. Parents are still the major influence on unaccompanied minor has become so common-
children’s overall development, and children place that airlines have instituted special rules
still need our love, our support, and our limit- and regulations for them. The phenomenon is
setting. And what I appreciate now, much a direct result of the increase in middle-class
more than when I first sat down to write this divorces and the fact that one or the other
book, is the importance of free, self-initiated, parent moves to another part of the country
and spontaneous play to the child’s healthy, or world.
mental, emotional, and social development.
The media too, including music, books, films,
and television, increasingly portray young
Our Hurried Children people as precocious and present them in
Today's child has become the unwilling, more or less explicit sexual or manipulative
unintended victim of overwhelming stress— situations. Such portrayals force children to
the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social think they should act grown up before they
change and constantly rising expectations. are ready.

In too many schools kindergartens have now Not surprisingly, the stresses of growing up
become "one-size-smaller" first grades, and fast often result in troubled and troublesome
children are tested, taught with workbooks, behavior during adolescence.
given homework, and take home a report
card. The result of this educational hurrying
is that from 10 to 20 percent of kindergarten
children are being "retained" or put in “The concept of childhood, so vital to
"transition" classes to prepare them for the the traditional American way of life,
academic rigors of first grade! is threatened with extinction in the
society we have created.”
Another evidence of the pressure to grow up
fast is the change in the programs of summer

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Parenthood
The rush to experiment is perhaps most ‣ THE CHILD AS SURROGATE SELF
noticeable in teenage sexual behavior. It is Although I have no statistics to back up such
estimated that of girls who are fourteen a generalization, I would venture that there is
years old today, 25 percent will be pregnant a strong tie between job dissatisfaction, on the
at least once before leaving the teen years. one hand, and a disproportionate concern
Parallelling the increased sexuality of young with offspring’s success in sports, on the
people is an increase in children of what in other. And as job dissatisfaction now arises
adults are known as stress diseases. Pedia- earlier in professional careers, compensatory
tricians report a greater incidence of such interest in children’s participation in sports
ailments as headaches, stomachaches, allergic often arises when the children are very young.
reactions, and so on in today's youngsters
than in previous generations.

Another index of the stress encountered by “I believe there is no reason to


today's children is their overall health. involve a child in such sports until
Researchers say that kids these days are on at least the age of six or seven.”
their way to being the most unfit ever.

The last hurrying-related teenage phenom-


enon I want to discuss is teenage suicide.
Parents also hurry children when they insist
The contributors to teenage suicide are
that they acquire academic skills, like reading,
multiple and complex, but it does not seem
at an early age. The desire of parents to have
unreasonable to suppose that some of the
their children read early is a good example of
contemporary hurrying stresses on teenagers,
parental pressure to have children grow up
from the competition for high grades and
fast generally. This pressure reflects parental
getting into good colleges, to the pressures
need, not the child’s need or inclination.
to use drugs and become sexually active,
contribute to the increase in the number of ‣ THE CHILD AS STATUS SYMBOL
young people who take their own lives.
Today, parents brag not only about the colleges
and prep schools their children are enrolled in
The Dynamics of Hurrying: but also about which private kindergartens
Parents they attend.
We hurry children because stress induces us ‣ THE CHILDHOOD AS PARTNER
to put our own needs ahead of their needs.
It is not always easy for working parents to
Caught up in our own coping struggle, separate what is reasonable from what is not.
inundated with the multifarious demands If a child can start dinner, then why not have
of life, we prefer to think of our children as him or her prepare the whole meal? If the
endlessly flexible and resilient materials. As child can keep one room tidy, why not the
such, they may therefore be expected to whole house? The temptation to pile heavy
adapt easily to our (adult) needs, schedules, domestic burdens on the child is strong for
interests, perspectives. We expect them to parents under stress. Helping parents is one
adapt more to adult life programs than we thing; taking over their jobs and responsi-
adapt to their child life programs. bilities is quite a different matter.

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Parenthood
‣ THE CHILD AS THERAPIST Another example of how schools hurry
Though stressful to both parents (as to children is the progressive downward thrust
children), divorce and separation mean of the curriculum. When school is looked
something different for men and women. upon as an assembly line and when there is
One common way that single mothers hurry pressure to increase production, there is a
their children to grow up is to treat them as temptation not only to fill the bottles faster
confidants. In some ways this is a natural but also to fill them earlier. Why not put in
phenomenon: a young mother, living alone, as much at kindergarten as at first grade?
begins to confide in her eight-year-old daughter. Just as there is controversy over the current
management emphasis in schools, and its
Single fathers also use children as confidants.
resulting pressure on children, there is also
When he sees the children on weekends, he
controversy over the new sex education and
may complain to them about how much
its impact on children. The new courses on sex
money he has to give to their mother and
education include much more than anatomy;
how little this leaves him to live on. Or he
they deal with such issues as dating behavior,
may express his resentment about the
abortion, contraception, homosexuality, mastur-
arguments that caused the break-up, or his
bation, mental illness, and death and dying.
jealousy over their mother's new relation-
ships. The children are caught in the middle The problem is, of course, that what may be
of these adult conflicts. appropriate for seventeen-year-olds may not
be appropriate for younger children. Inevitably,
All of us today are under a great deal of stress however, the conviction that "earlier is better,"
from our rapidly changing society. Some which so dominates today's educational
parents are so stressed that they become ego- climate, means that such programs will be
centric and either forget or find it impossible and are being used with preteen and young
to use the knowledge we have about the teenagers who may be given more information
nature and needs of children. Such parents than they want or need.
need the support, the companionship, and the
symbolic achievements of their children to In addition to testing and questionable subject
relieve their stress. matter, and first-grade issues, schools are
engaging in other practices that hurry children.
One of these is growing number of schools
The Dynamics of Hurrying: that are rotating elementary school students
Schools from one teacher and classroom to another
for instruction in different subjects.
Many of our schools reflect the contemporary
bias toward having children grow up fast. Consider the time it takes nine-year-old
They do this because such schools have children to put away their materials, move to
become increasingly industrialized and another classroom, and set up shop at another
product oriented. set of desks. If this process is repeated four or
five times a day, the children have spent more
The factory model of education hurries
time in getting up and getting down than
children because it ignores individual
they have in learning!
differences in mental abilities and learning
rates and learning styles. Children are Departmentalization and rotation at the
pressured to meet uniform standards as elementary school level hurries children. It
measured by standardized tests. hurries them both on a day-to-day basis by

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requiring so many additional adjustments to demands on us have increased just as the time
new teachers and classrooms, and it hurries available for such oversight has decreased.
them on a long-term basis by depriving them Recent surveys indicate that parents are
of a teacher who knows them sufficiently well working more and have less time for child
to reflect back to them their continuity and rearing than in the 1970s and 1980s. The
wholeness as persons. amount of time is also reduced because of
the number of two-parent-working and
A certain amount of stress and pressure are
single-parent families.
important and healthy for children to realize
their full powers. It is only when the stresses But we do need to monitor. And it is necessary,
and pressures become inappropriate and not out of some misguided notion that child-
extraordinary, as they are in many of our hood is a period of innocence that has to be
schools today, that expectations and demands shielded but, rather, because children do need
become hurrying and the stress unhealthy. to be socialized and it is our job as parents to
teach them the socially prescribed rules of
The Dynamics of Hurrying: behavior. The real danger of growing up fast
is that children may learn the rules of social
The Media license before they learn the rules of social
As we have seen, despite our knowledge responsibility. This inverted sequence
about children's development, all too many increases the potential for uncivil behavior
schools still regard children as empty bottles
on an assembly line of grades-each grade The Dynamics of Hurrying:
fills the bottle up a little more, the bottle
representing the child's memory. What the
Lapware, Brain Research,
schools fail to appreciate is that the "bottles" and the Internet
are already overflowing with information
about the present and future that is provided The introduction of new technologies seems,
by the media that now includes the Internet. inevitably, to create the temptation to use
them with ever younger age groups. This
By the 1990s, parents have become so numbed has certainly been the case with computers.
to the swearing, nudity, overt sexual activity, Nonetheless, I think it is a temptation that
and violence in movies that we have become parents should resist.
less vigilant about letting our children watch
this material. Additionally, the advent of cable The promoters of these products play on our
television and rented CDs has made monitor- parental guilt and anxiety about our children's
ing young people's film watching even more ability to compete in an increasingly techno-
difficult for us. logical and global
economy. These concerns
The explicit sex and are understandable, but
violence that pervades “When children are pressured they are also a little
the media puts a greater to grow up fast, important misguided. What
monitoring burden on achievements are skipped or infants need most, and
parents. And it does so what will give them the
bypassed, which can give rise
just when we are least best foundation for
to serious problems later.” whatever world they are
able to bear it. That is to
say, the monitoring going to live in, is not

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provided by any computer program. What
they need most is a healthy sense that the
Helping Hurried Children
world is a safe place, that their needs will be Ours is a hurried and hurrying society. We are
met, and that they will be cared for and always on the lookout for ways of doing things
protected by the grown-ups in their world. faster and more expeditiously. We have the
supermarket to speed up shopping and fast-
Although some exposure of children over the
food restaurants to speed up eating. We build
age of three to well-designed, age-appropriate
superhighways to speed up transportation
programs may do no harm, it is unlikely that
and household gadgets to speed up housework.
such exposure will have important or lasting
benefits. There is no evidence that early Although the pressure to get things done more
exposure to computers gives children an edge quickly and efficiently has positive benefits—
in computer literacy, self-confidence, or self- it has made us the most innovative society on
esteem. In this regard it is well to remember earth—it has its drawbacks, such as producing
that Bill Gates, founder and CEO of Microsoft, impatience. For all our technological finesse
did not have a computer as an infant and and sophisticated facade, we are a people
young child. who cannot-will not-wait. Compulsive about
punctuality and using our time most efficiently,
On the other hand, we do have a solid basis
we become surly when forced to relax and
for encouraging parents to talk and sing to the
wait our turn.
infant, and to have simple and safe crib toys
such as rattles and play gyms readily available.

Like most of our new information-age techno-


logies, the Internet is a mixed blessing. It is a Play: An Antidote to Hurrying
tremendous resource for getting all sorts of
information rapidly and in our own homes. At all levels of development, whether
And it is an extraordinarily helpful educational at home or at school, children need
resource as well. At the same time, it poses a the opportunity to play for play's sake.
number of risks for children and adolescents. Whether that play is the symbolic
The price of our new technologies, like the play of young children, the games
price of liberty, is eternal vigilance. But if we with rules and collections of the school-
use common sense, set reasonable usage rules, age child, or the more complicated
and do some monitoring, we can probably get intellectual games of adolescence
the best out of the Internet and avoid some of (like Clue) children should be given
its less savory offerings. the time and encouragement to
engage in them.

Basically, play is nature's way of


dealing with stress for children as
“Valuing childhood does not mean
well as adults. As parents, we can
seeing it as a happy innocent period help by investing in toys and
but, rather, as an important period of playthings that give the greatest
life to which children are entitled.” scope to the child's imagination.

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What can we do to help it clear that we really are
children who are being sorry. In the same way,
“We hurry our children
pressured to grow up when we ask children to
fast and who experience because we hurry ourselves.” do something for us, to
this as inordinate stress? save us time, or to help
us out, it is really
If we are asking too much and are engaged in important to say "please" and "thank you."
calendar or clock hurrying, we can either cut Being polite to children speaks to their
back on our demands or increase our supports. feelings of self-worth (as it does to adults),
This is an objective way of helping children which are always threatened when we hurry
deal with hurrying in the sense that it deals them. Being polite to children helps them to
with the actual, often unverbalized expectancies perceive hurrying in a less stressful way.
that we have of our children and with the
amount and variety of supports we are When we are polite to children, we show in
willing to offer. the most simple and direct way possible that
we value them as people and care about their
But hurrying, like any stressor, has a subjective feelings. Thus, politeness is one of the most
dimension. How children perceive hurrying simple and effective ways of easing stress in
determines its effects as much as the fact of children and of helping them to become
hurrying itself. thoughtful and sensitive people themselves.

‣ YOUNG CHILDREN ‣ SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN


Young children (two to eight years) tend to School-age children are more independent
perceive hurrying as a rejection, as evidence and more self-reliant than young children.
that their parents do not really care about them. Consequently, they often seem to welcome
hurrying in the sense that they are eager to
Accordingly, when we have to hurry young
children, when they have to be at a day-care
center or with a baby sitter, we need to Focus on the Present
appreciate children's feelings about the
matter. We need to respond to a child's feeling If we concentrate on the here and
more than to his or her intellect. One might now, without worrying about
yesterday or tomorrow, our children
say, for instance: "I'm really going to miss
will do likewise. If you are a working
you today and wish you could be with me."
mother, enjoy the time you spend
The exact words are less important than the with your child and don't spoil it for
message that the separation is painful for you him or her by worrying about the
too but necessary. And it is equally important, time you were not around or about
when you pick your child up at the end of the the times you will be separated in
day, to say something about how happy you the future. Children live in the
are to see him or her. By responding to the present, and they know when we
young child's feelings, we lessen some of the are with them physically but not
stress of hurrying. mentally. By worrying about the
past and future, we lose the present
If we need to break a promise about taking a and our children don't have us,
child to a movie, the park, or the zoo, it is even when we are around.
very important that we apologize and make

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take on adult chores and responsibilities, terms. First of all, adolescents construct
particularly in single-parent homes, where concepts of ideal parents who are all-knowing,
they may try intuitively to fill the role of the all-good, and all-generous and then compare
absent parent. The danger with this age their real parents with this ideal and find
group is for parents to accept this display of them sadly wanting. This is one reason why
maturity for true maturity rather than for young adolescents criticize their parents for
what it is—a kind of game. the way they dress, eat, talk, look, act, and so
on. And when adolescents feel hurried by
For this age group, it is important that we parents, the criticism often reaches a frenzy.
communicate our appreciation for all that
they do for us—helping around the house, Secondly, adolescents blame their parents
baby sitting, and so on—but also that we know not only for hurrying them as adolescents
they are still children and that there are some but also for hurrying them as children.
things they should not be burdened with. While school-age children rationalize parental
hurrying, they don't forget it. In effect, adoles-
‣ ADOLESCENTS cents pay us back in the teen years for all the
As young people move into adolescence and sins, real or imagined, that we committed
attain new, more complex mental abilities, against them when they were children.
hurrying is again seen in a new way. Although ❖ ❖ ❖
adolescents also perceive hurrying as a
rejection at a deep young-child level, they Hurrying children into adulthood violates
begin to see it in more abstract, complex the sanctity of life by giving one period
priority over another. But if we really value
human life, we will value each period equally
and give unto each stage of life what is
Other Chapters in appropriate to that stage.
The Hurried Child
In the end, a childhood is the most basic
‣ Growing Up Slowly human right of children.

‣ Learning to Be Social
If you liked this summary,
‣ How Children React to Stress click here to buy the book.

From The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (25th Anniversary Edition) by
David Elkind, Ph.D. Copyright © 2001, 1988, 1981 by David Elkind. Preface for the
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition copyright © 2007 by David Elkind. Summarized by
permission of the publisher, Da Capo Press.
288 pages. $16.95. ISBN-10: 0-7382-1082-X; ISBN-13: 978-0-7382-1082-7.
Summary Copyright © 2009 by FamilyIntel, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this
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