Rush to raise little Adults is hurting our Children
Canada ranks 25th out of 41 countries in UNICEF rankings of well-being of children
“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.