The Hurried Child, Book Review
by Sonja Marcuson
The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon
By David Elkind, Ph.D.
Perseus Publishing, Massachusetts, 2001
I admire Elkind's dedication to the children of America; however, I found the information in the Third Edition of The Hurried Child, to be nothing more than common sense spelled-out in excruciating detail. It frightens me to think that there are people out there responsible for the upbringing of a child who need to read this book. For those though who do need to know, Elkind provides a detailed lesson in common sense in 221 pages.
Elkind expressly calls people's attention to the potential dangers of "hurrying children," exposing them early-on to overwhelming pressures and expectations that can lead to a wide range of childhood, teenage and adulthood crises. Elkind is fanatical about allowing children time to learn, grow and develop at their individual pace.
New to the third edition of The Hurried Child are updated sections on "hurrying" by parents, schools, and the media. He adds a new section on what he labels "peer-group parent-pressure," "the kindergarten crisis," as well as a section on "computer, brain research, and the Internet."
It is essential to first identify the basis of Elkind's passionate position that we are guilty of rushing our children to grow up. The statistics upon which Elkind forms his argument that American children were better off a couple decades ago:
- Infant mortality is up.
- More children are living in poverty.
- There is a 50% increase in childhood obesity.
- Teenage pregnancy rates are the highest for any Western society.
- Suicide and homicide rates have tripled from twenty years ago.
- SAT scores have plummeted.
- 15-20% children are flunking kindergarten.
- Millions of children are medicated to be more "tractable" at home and school.
While there are counterpoints to many of the statistics Elkind uses, they demonstrate his point of view. This is his point of departure on a passionate journey to educate parents, educators, the media and any other outside
influences on our children on how to slow down and let kids be kids.
Elkind claims the dynamics of hurrying by parents is built on three major stressors parents experience, namely, that parents feel more afraid, alone and professionally insecure than ever. When adults become stressed, he states, they become self-centered and put their own needs and ideas first. Elkind generally speaks with a voice of logic and reason, but frequently carries on ad nauseum and you can skim sections without having missed anything significant. "Peer-group parent-pressure" is a phrase he uses to name the stress generated directly or indirectly by parents of your children's friends. This again, he says, presses parents to hurry their child to be like the "neighbor's." Once again, his point is clear, each child is a unique individual and cannot be expected to perform at the neighbor's pace.
Elkind asserts that hurrying caused by schools is, in part, due to the focus on testing, the emphasis placed on being "gifted" and the push for sex education. His statements back-up his views regarding the push for testing and gifted quality, however his criticism of sex education lacks proper statistics, logic and his usual common sense approach. Criteria for promotion and graduation have intensified rapidly with an emphasis on repetitive standardized tests, leading to incessant stress on students. The American notion that our children's ability to be competitive with the Japanese has been wrongly emphasized throughout history, again leading Americans to hurry their children to develop at the rate of an advanced child. Elkind is horrified by the "kindergarten crisis" he has seen evolve over the years. His concern is that a significant percentage (15-20%) of kindergarten-aged children are not promoted because they are incompetent in academic skills. Having taught kindergarten myself, I agree with the criteria Elkind identifies as valuable educationally--social skills. Social skills are more important than academic skills to be successful in the following grade. It is imperative to take into account the child's maturity and the intellectual demand, as well as considering the child's feelings about their own academic skills.
The mechanisms by which the media hurries children are television, magazines, books, movies and music. Elkind effectively attacks the exploitation and sensationalism the media forces upon children. He cites correctly that the television and theater have effectively targeted audiences and are able to engage their senses immediately. This has an immediate appeal to our youth; however, there is less parental control, a "fantasy/reality teeter-totter," and an unhealthy homogenization of concepts and issues. Television and theater expose children to experiences that they would doubtfully experience otherwise, but exposure is one thing and comprehension is another. Regarding books' and magazines' influence, Elkind goes off the deep end with fanatical zeal again. However, he tempers his extremes by stating, "Regardless of the cycles in the focus of children's fiction, reading will remain a healthy counterpoise to hurrying and stress." As for how the media affects us through music, Elkind cites the statistic that children are listening to an average of six hours of music a day and therefore the suggested escapisms, i.e. sex, drugs, violence, partying, need to be monitored and given parental attention.
Upon entering the new millennium in America, Elkind recognizes that technology is another facet by which we hurry children. The computer and Internet are powerful tools, and when used intelligently, can be very useful and beneficial. In the same right, they can have a powerful effect in a negative direction. Elkind scolds software makers for making "lapware" developed for infants on the "earlier is better" mentality. He blasts the logic of placing an infant on a parent's lap to engage them in lapware time. Obviously, he states, this hurries the child. Given the existing controversy surrounding brain research to date, Elkind quotes a neuroscientist at the McDonald Foundation stating that, "Anything people would say right now has a good chance of not being true two years from now because the understanding is so rudimentary and people are looking at things in such a simplistic way." "The Internet is a fantastic educational and informational source. Yet it can expose young people to vile language, pornography, and all sorts of hate material," says Elkind. Yet again, I find myself noting that this is simply common sense.
His suggested solutions to these problems are obvious "no brainers." His theme is consistent throughout - each child is a unique individual and should be provided their time to grow, to learn and develop and nothing is more foolish than trying to substitute our childhood for theirs. If for nothing more than to remind parents to focus on their children's childhood and take the focus off themselves and their personal aspirations, parents should pick up this lackluster read.
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