Rush to raise lit­tle Adults is hurt­ing our Chil­dren

Canada ranks 25th out of 41 coun­tries in UNICEF rank­ings of well-be­ing of chil­dren

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DR. PETER NIEMAN Dr. Nieman is a com­mu­nity-based pe­di­a­tri­cian. He is the pres­i­dent of the Al­berta Chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics. He has com­pleted over 100 marathons. www. drnie­man.com

“Chil­dren are the liv­ing mes­sages we send to a time we will not see.”

These are the in­tro­duc­tory words of a book, The Dis­ap­pear­ance of Child­hood, a clas­sic best­seller I fre­quently re­view when I ob­serve how our cul­ture trends to­ward rush­ing child­hood.

The author, the late Neil Post­man, who was the chair of the Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Arts and Sci­ences at New York Univer­sity, wrote this book in the early 1980s and had to re­view it again a few years later, sim­ply be­cause the pace at which chil­dren ma­ture con­tin­ued to ac­cel­er­ate at a dizzy­ing speed.

The hur­ry­ing of child­hood starts as early as preschool. Some preschools have grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies with gowns, tas­sels and caps ga­lore.

Even pu­berty is thought to be nor­mal at ear­lier and ear­lier ages. It is now nor­mal for 15 per cent of seven-year-old girls to ex­pe­ri­ence breast de­vel­op­ment; by age eight this goes up to 20 per cent. Around 10 per cent of seven-year-old girls also have pu­bic hair, this is con­sid­ered nor­mal.

Ex­perts spec­u­late that obe­sity, toxic stress and per­haps some en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors all may play a role in the ear­lier de­vel­op­ment of pu­berty.

Re­al­iz­ing that chil­dren are not al­lowed to be chil­dren for long enough, the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics re­cently came out with a po­si­tion state­ment on the value of play.

I shall never for­get a pic­ture in the Bos­ton Globe’s Health sec­tion where there was a chalk out­line of a child on the as­phalt of a pub­lic play­ground; in the back­ground was an empty swing. The mes­sage was clear — fewer and fewer chil­dren are to be found in play­grounds. In­stead, they are un­der pres­sure to study or achieve, to get into elite uni­ver­si­ties such as Har­vard.

Re­cently I met a mom who told me that, in their fam­ily, they do not al­low any toys which are bat­tery op­er­ated be­fore the child is six years old. Her mes­sage was very di­rect: “I want my chil­dren to use more of their imag­i­na­tion when they play, and I don’t want noisy or flashy toys.”

The men­tal im­pact of an ac­cel­er­ated child­hood is huge. When these rushed chil­dren say goodbye to the in­no­cent years of early child­hood they are at a higher risk of anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion; their sleep may de­te­ri­o­rate; they are at risk for de­vel­op­ing patho­log­i­cal eat­ing habits.

Men­tal health is­sues such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and self­harm have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally over the past decade. In 2016, 35 chil­dren un­der the age of 14 took their own lives. In the same year, 203 teenagers be­tween ages 15-19 took their own lives.

A re­cent re­port by Chil­dren First Canada lamented the fact that Canada is lag­ging fur­ther be­hind when it comes to ac­cess to high-qual­ity men­tal health care. Chil­dren First Canada notes that Canada ranks a mid­dling 25th out of 41 coun­tries in UNICEF rank­ings of well-be­ing of chil­dren and youth. Chil­dren First Canada called for the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent na­tional com­mis­sion for chil­dren and youth and for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a Canadian Chil­dren’s Char­ter.

Some par­ents have pulled their chil­dren out of pub­lic schools to al­low for a more cus­tom­ized and child-cen­tric ed­u­ca­tion else­where. The in­ter­est in the Montes­sori ed­u­ca­tion en­vi­ron­ment has ex­ploded — more and more par­ents are open to a dif­fer­ent way of ed­u­cat­ing their chil­dren.

The late Dr. Maria Montes­sori, an Ital­ian pe­di­a­tri­cian, founded an ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional learn­ing. Montes­sori said “The child’s work is to cre­ate the man (woman) that is to be. The adult will be a fully har­mo­nious in­di­vid­ual only if he (she) has been able, at each pre­ced­ing stage to live as na­ture in­tended him (her) to.”

In the Montes­sori sys­tem, chil­dren are en­cour­aged to use all five senses to learn and at a pace that suits them rather than a sys­tem which asks them to fit a cer­tain mould. (See www. montes­sori-namta.org)

The author of The Dis­ap­pear­ance of Child­hood also wrote Rein­vent­ing Ed­u­ca­tion, in which he ar­gues for a more child-cen­tric sys­tem, rather than bend­ing kids to fit moulds built by politi­cians and ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts.

For par­ents who want to learn more about the price to so­ci­ety for hur­ry­ing child­hood, I sug­gest The Hur­ried Child by David Elkind. Writ­ing for the mag­a­zine Psy­chol­ogy Today in June 2008, Elkind noted that, “Hur­ry­ing chil­dren is a prob­lem that has al­ways been with us. The irony is that no one be­lieves in hur­ry­ing chil­dren. Ed­u­ca­tors and par­ents all say, “I don’t be­lieve in hur­ry­ing chil­dren, but …”

Para­phras­ing Elkind, ed­u­ca­tors have be­come “slaves” to cur­ric­ula and leg­is­la­tors are “slaves” to their con­stituents. Ten years ago, Elkind ar­gued it is time to get be­yond the “but.” We seem un­able to ac­com­plish that.

Play­grounds seem to be empty of chil­dren these days as so­ci­ety trends to­ward rush­ing them into adult­hood.

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