Most of us have had one of those days when we’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could be a kid again, without all the stress of my job and the pressure to succeed?” But did you ever consider that many kids are feeling the same stress that adults feel?
In a culture that emphasizes success, children are bombarded daily to grow up too quickly. They are pressured to learn to read and count even before they can walk; to outperform the other kids in their kindergarten class; to be self-sufficient, productive and disciplined. This rushed childhood creates undue stress that many psychologists believe can have devastating effects.
Children who suffer the stresses of adulthood will also exhibit the ailments of adulthood. More and more children are suffering stress-related health problems, like ulcers by the age of seven, and they are experiencing sleep disorders and bedwetting. Suicide and depression, once restricted to adults, have found their way into the child’s community. To complicate matters, many children have blocked their learning skills because of anxiety-promoted memory lapses and an exaggerated fear of failure.
Single parents and two-career families often push their children as hard as they push themselves. These children develop a feeling that they are unworthy of their busy parents’ time and feel rejected when their parents leave them behind with multiple sitters and caretakers.
Many parents seek to create “super kids,” pressuring their children into becoming premature adults and making them overly competitive. Ironically, in their eagerness to create an academic prodigy, overzealous parents often create an underachiever. When these children fail to live up to their parents’ expectations (which are often unrealistic and created by media hype), the children become so anxiety-ridden that they cannot perform.
Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, advises parents to let children be children. His research suggests that students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.
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. These feelings even carry into their adult careers.
How do we avoid hurrying our children through childhood?
Remember that play is an important part of childhood. Pure play is needed to reduce stress, foster creativity, and experience joy. Adults shouldn’t turn play into work, and they shouldn’t try to teach children during their play period. When parents must leave their kids with others, they should tell their kids that they are going to miss them and that they wish they didn’t have to go away.
Remember, it’s impossible to accelerate emotional maturation. Children may act grown up, but they don’t feel grown-up. They may speak “adult,” while their feelings are crying “child.” In the final analysis, childhood is a significant part of life, and it should be respected and valued. Kids are entitled to their childhood, and we shouldn’t hurry them through this stage.