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All Stressed Out:
Are Your Giving Your Kids Hurried Child Syndrome?

By Dr. Gail Gross

Many parents and professionals alike are being warned today that hurrying children through childhood can have harmful effects. In a culture that stresses success, children are bombarded daily to grow up too quickly -- and in fact, many psychologists believe that growing up too fast can have devastating effects.

In an era of technological and media advances, children are often portrayed as little adults. However, if children are offered the stresses of adulthood, they will also exhibit the ailments of adulthood.

Consequently, psychiatric units are filled today with a new breed of troubled youngster. Pediatricians are finding more children with stress-related diseases such as ulcers by the age of 7, as well as sleep disorders and bedwetting. Suicide and depression are no longer restricted to adults but have found their way into the child’s community. And children have blocked their leaning skills with anxiety promoted memory lapses and an exaggerated fear of failure.

Paralyzed by fear of failure
This has great implications for educational policy as well as practice. As a new underachiever is created, a new problem in education is created based on the child so anxiety-ridden that he cannot perform. Teaching will have to address this problem and find an educational practice to engage it successfully.

Furthermore, these children are less likely to risk because success is directly connected with parental approval. These children can’t live up to their parents’ expectations, which are often unrealistic and are connected with media hype. Additionally, single parents and two-career families push their children as they push themselves and give their children a feeling of unworthiness.

Hurrying children has become a widespread trend all across the United States. Ultimately, it is parental influence in relation to their children’s values that has the opportunity for a positive influence on their children’s grades.

Overexposure to academic experiences
Dr. David Elkind, the author of the Hurried Child and a professor of child study at Tufts University, has written quite extensively on this topic. Elkind states, “Americans expose their children to overwhelming pressures, pressures that can lead to low self esteem, to teenage pregnancy and even to teenage suicide.”

His research suggests that students' activities and relationships with their parents are a greater indicator of academic success than hurrying children through early childhood by overestimating their competence and overexposing them to academic experience. Additionally, Elkind discusses the concept that children who are not ready early are placed in the position to fail. Therefore, Dr. Elkind advises parents to let children be children.

Super Kids and late bloomers
We have become a culture of super everything, including “super kids,” pressuring children into premature adults and making them overly competitive. Because it is not possible to accelerate emotional maturation (since the emotions have their own time clock), children may act grown up, but they don’t feel grown up. In essence, children may appear to speak “adult” while their feelings are crying “child.”

Then there are the late bloomers – children who do not succeed early on. Since these hurried children must be successful, they are perceived as unsuccessful if they can’t compete. As a result, children are stressed to develop academic skills beyond their capabilities and may develop anxiety syndromes to accommodate this stress.

Moreover, parents today face many issues related to their own need to succeed. The multi-job family, the yuppie generation and the Wall Street broker all place a heavy burden on their own psychological well-being.

Unfortunately, they place the same need to succeed on their children. In fact, children who mature later in this stressed child syndrome are often labeled as defective or disabled, when they are simply maturing at a different rate of speed.

Just slow down!
Children have a heavy burden to bear when they feel that their performance is connected with the love they receive, and they are letting down their parents if they are not successful. Additionally, these attitudes carry over into the job world.

That we are a hurried culture and that we hurry our children as we do ourselves is clearly demonstrated in the reflection of our priorities. For example, children today have too many caretakers performing as parents. When this situation occurs from the ages of 2 to 8, children feel rejected because of being left with others. One solution to this problem is to encourage parents to appreciate their children’s feelings. Parents should tell their children that they are going to miss them and that they wish they didn’t have to go away. The message is that being separated is painful but necessary.

Finally, this discussion must lead to the importance of play. Play is an important part of childhood and must not be hurried or transformed into work. In essence, pure play is needed to reduce stress and experience joy. Adults must not turn play into work and must not teach children during their play period. In effect, play fosters creativity better than store bought toys. And self-expression is very important. In the final analysis, childhood is a significant part of life, and it should be both respected and valued. Children are entitled to their childhood and should not be hurried through this stage.

© Dr. Gail Gross

Read more about the value of true play.

A former teacher, Dr. Gail Gross is a nationally recognized expert, author and lecturer on juvenile education, behavior and development issues. She recently addressed the national PTA conference and The Harvard School of Divinity. Dr. Gross and her husband Jenard founded The Cuney Home School in partnership with Texas Southern University. Dr. Gross received a B.S. in education and psychology and an Ed.D. from the University of Houston. She earned her master's degree in secondary education with a focus in psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. She is a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District. Visit Dr. Gross at DrGailGross.com.



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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
-- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist

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