Document 71392

The Hurried Child (25th Anniversary Edition)
Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon
Publisher: Release Date:
David Elkind, Ph.D.
Da Capo Press
January 2007
David Elkind, Ph.D., is Professor of Child Development
in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child development at Tufts University. Through his writings,
media appearances, and lectures in the United
States and abroad, he is recognized as one of the
leading advocates for the preservation of
childhood. The author of more than a dozen
books including All Grown Up and No Place to
Go and The Power of Play, he lives in Boston
and on Cape Cod.
Preface to the TwentyFifth Anniversary Edition
When I wrote The Hurried Child in 1981, I had
no inkling of the technological revolution that
was to come. Indeed, I wrote the manuscript
in pencil on lined, yellow pads, typed it up on
an electrical typewriter, and sent the manuscript to the editor via parcel post. This new
introduction, written in 2006, was typed on a
computer and sent to the editor as an attachment to an e-mail over the Internet.
The electronic media have simply reinforced
our need to hurry and our ability to get things
done quickly. Much of this spills over into our
child rearing and eduction. Indeed the revolutionary nature of the last quarter of a century
is reflected in at least five new innovations in
the lives of children.
1. Infant Education. From a child development point of view, perhaps the most
significant transformation in child life has
to do with the new attention to stimulating
infants and young children.
2. Out-of-Home Care for Young Children.
Today, 12.5 million children, 63 percent of
the nation’s children under five, are in
some type of child care each week.
3. The Child As Consumer. Even the Girl
Scouts have been co-opted and now take
camping trips to the mall.
4. Childhood Moves Indoors. When I first
wrote this book, I was most concerned
about the stress our culture placed on
children and the mental health consequences
of continued emotional upset. Today, however, the sedentary lifestyle introduced by
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5. The Technologically Empowered Student.
The fifth and final innovation of the last
quarter of a century is one that I believe is
positive and offers the most hope for the
future of children in our society: the
increasing penetration of computer technologies and programming in our schools.
While emphasizing the changes that have
come about since the first edition of this book,
I would be remiss if I did not also remark on
what has remained the same. It still takes a
mother nine months to carry a baby to term.
The ages at which children learn to walk,
talk, and learn the three Rs have not changed,
even with all the effort to introduce them
earlier. Parents are still the major influence on
children’s overall development, and children
still need our love, our support, and our limitsetting. And what I appreciate now, much
more than when I first sat down to write this
book, is the importance of free, self-initiated,
and spontaneous play to the child’s healthy,
mental, emotional, and social development.
Our Hurried Children
Today's child has become the unwilling,
unintended victim of overwhelming stress—
the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social
change and constantly rising expectations.
In too many schools kindergartens have now
become "one-size-smaller" first grades, and
children are tested, taught with workbooks,
given homework, and take home a report
card. The result of this educational hurrying
is that from 10 to 20 percent of kindergarten
children are being "retained" or put in
"transition" classes to prepare them for the
academic rigors of first grade!
Another evidence of the pressure to grow up
fast is the change in the programs of summer
camps for children. Although there are still
many summer camps that offer swimming,
sailing, horseback riding, archery, and camp
fires—activities we remember from our own
childhood—an increasing number of summer
camps offer specialized training in many different areas, including foreign languages, tennis,
baseball, dance, music, and even computers.
The change in the programs of summer
camps reflects the new attitude that the years
of childhood are not to be frittered away by
engaging in activities merely for fun. Rather,
the years are to be used to perfect skills and
abilities that are the same as those of adults.
There are many other pressures as well. Many
children today travel across the country, and
indeed across the world, alone. The so-called
unaccompanied minor has become so commonplace that airlines have instituted special rules
and regulations for them. The phenomenon is
a direct result of the increase in middle-class
divorces and the fact that one or the other
parent moves to another part of the country
or world.
The media too, including music, books, films,
and television, increasingly portray young
people as precocious and present them in
more or less explicit sexual or manipulative
situations. Such portrayals force children to
think they should act grown up before they
are ready.
Not surprisingly, the stresses of growing up
fast often result in troubled and troublesome
behavior during adolescence.
“The concept of childhood, so vital to
the traditional American way of life,
is threatened with extinction in the
society we have created.”
The Hurried Child
our new technologies makes child physical
health an equally important concern.
Parallelling the increased sexuality of young
people is an increase in children of what in
adults are known as stress diseases. Pediatricians report a greater incidence of such
ailments as headaches, stomachaches, allergic
reactions, and so on in today's youngsters
than in previous generations.
The Dynamics of Hurrying:
We hurry children because stress induces us
to put our own needs ahead of their needs.
Caught up in our own coping struggle,
inundated with the multifarious demands
of life, we prefer to think of our children as
endlessly flexible and resilient materials. As
such, they may therefore be expected to
adapt easily to our (adult) needs, schedules,
interests, perspectives. We expect them to
adapt more to adult life programs than we
adapt to their child life programs.
Although I have no statistics to back up such
a generalization, I would venture that there is
a strong tie between job dissatisfaction, on the
one hand, and a disproportionate concern
with offspring’s success in sports, on the
other. And as job dissatisfaction now arises
earlier in professional careers, compensatory
interest in children’s participation in sports
often arises when the children are very young.
“I believe there is no reason to
involve a child in such sports until
at least the age of six or seven.”
Another index of the stress encountered by
today's children is their overall health.
Researchers say that kids these days are on
their way to being the most unfit ever.
The last hurrying-related teenage phenomenon I want to discuss is teenage suicide.
The contributors to teenage suicide are
multiple and complex, but it does not seem
unreasonable to suppose that some of the
contemporary hurrying stresses on teenagers,
from the competition for high grades and
getting into good colleges, to the pressures
to use drugs and become sexually active,
contribute to the increase in the number of
young people who take their own lives.
The rush to experiment is perhaps most
noticeable in teenage sexual behavior. It is
estimated that of girls who are fourteen
years old today, 25 percent will be pregnant
at least once before leaving the teen years.
Parents also hurry children when they insist
that they acquire academic skills, like reading,
at an early age. The desire of parents to have
their children read early is a good example of
parental pressure to have children grow up
fast generally. This pressure reflects parental
need, not the child’s need or inclination.
Today, parents brag not only about the colleges
and prep schools their children are enrolled in
but also about which private kindergartens
they attend.
It is not always easy for working parents to
separate what is reasonable from what is not.
If a child can start dinner, then why not have
him or her prepare the whole meal? If the
child can keep one room tidy, why not the
whole house? The temptation to pile heavy
domestic burdens on the child is strong for
parents under stress. Helping parents is one
thing; taking over their jobs and responsibilities is quite a different matter.
The Hurried Child
Though stressful to both parents (as to
children), divorce and separation mean
something different for men and women.
One common way that single mothers hurry
their children to grow up is to treat them as
confidants. In some ways this is a natural
phenomenon: a young mother, living alone,
begins to confide in her eight-year-old daughter.
Single fathers also use children as confidants.
When he sees the children on weekends, he
may complain to them about how much
money he has to give to their mother and
how little this leaves him to live on. Or he
may express his resentment about the
arguments that caused the break-up, or his
jealousy over their mother's new relationships. The children are caught in the middle
of these adult conflicts.
All of us today are under a great deal of stress
from our rapidly changing society. Some
parents are so stressed that they become egocentric and either forget or find it impossible
to use the knowledge we have about the
nature and needs of children. Such parents
need the support, the companionship, and the
symbolic achievements of their children to
relieve their stress.
The Dynamics of Hurrying:
Many of our schools reflect the contemporary
bias toward having children grow up fast.
They do this because such schools have
become increasingly industrialized and
product oriented.
The factory model of education hurries
children because it ignores individual
differences in mental abilities and learning
rates and learning styles. Children are
pressured to meet uniform standards as
measured by standardized tests.
Another example of how schools hurry
children is the progressive downward thrust
of the curriculum. When school is looked
upon as an assembly line and when there is
pressure to increase production, there is a
temptation not only to fill the bottles faster
but also to fill them earlier. Why not put in
as much at kindergarten as at first grade?
Just as there is controversy over the current
management emphasis in schools, and its
resulting pressure on children, there is also
controversy over the new sex education and
its impact on children. The new courses on sex
education include much more than anatomy;
they deal with such issues as dating behavior,
abortion, contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, mental illness, and death and dying.
The problem is, of course, that what may be
appropriate for seventeen-year-olds may not
be appropriate for younger children. Inevitably,
however, the conviction that "earlier is better,"
which so dominates today's educational
climate, means that such programs will be
and are being used with preteen and young
teenagers who may be given more information
than they want or need.
In addition to testing and questionable subject
matter, and first-grade issues, schools are
engaging in other practices that hurry children.
One of these is growing number of schools
that are rotating elementary school students
from one teacher and classroom to another
for instruction in different subjects.
Consider the time it takes nine-year-old
children to put away their materials, move to
another classroom, and set up shop at another
set of desks. If this process is repeated four or
five times a day, the children have spent more
time in getting up and getting down than
they have in learning!
Departmentalization and rotation at the
elementary school level hurries children. It
hurries them both on a day-to-day basis by
The Hurried Child
A certain amount of stress and pressure are
important and healthy for children to realize
their full powers. It is only when the stresses
and pressures become inappropriate and
extraordinary, as they are in many of our
schools today, that expectations and demands
become hurrying and the stress unhealthy.
The Dynamics of Hurrying:
The Media
As we have seen, despite our knowledge
about children's development, all too many
schools still regard children as empty bottles
on an assembly line of grades-each grade
fills the bottle up a little more, the bottle
representing the child's memory. What the
schools fail to appreciate is that the "bottles"
are already overflowing with information
about the present and future that is provided
by the media that now includes the Internet.
By the 1990s, parents have become so numbed
to the swearing, nudity, overt sexual activity,
and violence in movies that we have become
less vigilant about letting our children watch
this material. Additionally, the advent of cable
television and rented CDs has made monitoring young people's film watching even more
difficult for us.
The explicit sex and
violence that pervades
the media puts a greater
monitoring burden on
parents. And it does so
just when we are least
able to bear it. That is to
say, the monitoring
demands on us have increased just as the time
available for such oversight has decreased.
Recent surveys indicate that parents are
working more and have less time for child
rearing than in the 1970s and 1980s. The
amount of time is also reduced because of
the number of two-parent-working and
single-parent families.
But we do need to monitor. And it is necessary,
not out of some misguided notion that childhood is a period of innocence that has to be
shielded but, rather, because children do need
to be socialized and it is our job as parents to
teach them the socially prescribed rules of
behavior. The real danger of growing up fast
is that children may learn the rules of social
license before they learn the rules of social
responsibility. This inverted sequence
increases the potential for uncivil behavior
The Dynamics of Hurrying:
Lapware, Brain Research,
and the Internet
The introduction of new technologies seems,
inevitably, to create the temptation to use
them with ever younger age groups. This
has certainly been the case with computers.
Nonetheless, I think it is a temptation that
parents should resist.
The promoters of these products play on our
parental guilt and anxiety about our children's
ability to compete in an increasingly technological and global
economy. These concerns
are understandable, but
“When children are pressured
they are also a little
to grow up fast, important
misguided. What
infants need most, and
achievements are skipped or
what will give them the
bypassed, which can give rise
best foundation for
to serious problems later.”
whatever world they are
going to live in, is not
The Hurried Child
requiring so many additional adjustments to
new teachers and classrooms, and it hurries
them on a long-term basis by depriving them
of a teacher who knows them sufficiently well
to reflect back to them their continuity and
wholeness as persons.
Although some exposure of children over the
age of three to well-designed, age-appropriate
programs may do no harm, it is unlikely that
such exposure will have important or lasting
benefits. There is no evidence that early
exposure to computers gives children an edge
in computer literacy, self-confidence, or selfesteem. In this regard it is well to remember
that Bill Gates, founder and CEO of Microsoft,
did not have a computer as an infant and
young child.
On the other hand, we do have a solid basis
for encouraging parents to talk and sing to the
infant, and to have simple and safe crib toys
such as rattles and play gyms readily available.
Like most of our new information-age technologies, the Internet is a mixed blessing. It is a
tremendous resource for getting all sorts of
information rapidly and in our own homes.
And it is an extraordinarily helpful educational
resource as well. At the same time, it poses a
number of risks for children and adolescents.
The price of our new technologies, like the
price of liberty, is eternal vigilance. But if we
use common sense, set reasonable usage rules,
and do some monitoring, we can probably get
the best out of the Internet and avoid some of
its less savory offerings.
“Valuing childhood does not mean
seeing it as a happy innocent period
but, rather, as an important period of
life to which children are entitled.”
provided by any computer program. What
they need most is a healthy sense that the
world is a safe place, that their needs will be
met, and that they will be cared for and
protected by the grown-ups in their world.
Helping Hurried Children
Ours is a hurried and hurrying society. We are
always on the lookout for ways of doing things
faster and more expeditiously. We have the
supermarket to speed up shopping and fastfood restaurants to speed up eating. We build
superhighways to speed up transportation
and household gadgets to speed up housework.
Although the pressure to get things done more
quickly and efficiently has positive benefits—
it has made us the most innovative society on
earth—it has its drawbacks, such as producing
impatience. For all our technological finesse
and sophisticated facade, we are a people
who cannot-will not-wait. Compulsive about
punctuality and using our time most efficiently,
we become surly when forced to relax and
wait our turn.
Play: An Antidote to Hurrying
At all levels of development, whether
at home or at school, children need
the opportunity to play for play's sake.
Whether that play is the symbolic
play of young children, the games
with rules and collections of the schoolage child, or the more complicated
intellectual games of adolescence
(like Clue) children should be given
the time and encouragement to
engage in them.
Basically, play is nature's way of
dealing with stress for children as
well as adults. As parents, we can
help by investing in toys and
playthings that give the greatest
scope to the child's imagination.
The Hurried Child
it clear that we really are
sorry. In the same way,
“We hurry our children
when we ask children to
because we hurry ourselves.”
do something for us, to
save us time, or to help
us out, it is really
If we are asking too much and are engaged in
important to say "please" and "thank you."
calendar or clock hurrying, we can either cut
Being polite to children speaks to their
back on our demands or increase our supports.
feelings of self-worth (as it does to adults),
This is an objective way of helping children
which are always threatened when we hurry
deal with hurrying in the sense that it deals
them. Being polite to children helps them to
with the actual, often unverbalized expectancies
perceive hurrying in a less stressful way.
that we have of our children and with the
When we are polite to children, we show in
amount and variety of supports we are
the most simple and direct way possible that
willing to offer.
we value them as people and care about their
But hurrying, like any stressor, has a subjective
feelings. Thus, politeness is one of the most
dimension. How children perceive hurrying
simple and effective ways of easing stress in
determines its effects as much as the fact of
children and of helping them to become
hurrying itself.
thoughtful and sensitive people themselves.
Young children (two to eight years) tend to
perceive hurrying as a rejection, as evidence
that their parents do not really care about them.
Accordingly, when we have to hurry young
children, when they have to be at a day-care
center or with a baby sitter, we need to
appreciate children's feelings about the
matter. We need to respond to a child's feeling
more than to his or her intellect. One might
say, for instance: "I'm really going to miss
you today and wish you could be with me."
The exact words are less important than the
message that the separation is painful for you
too but necessary. And it is equally important,
when you pick your child up at the end of the
day, to say something about how happy you
are to see him or her. By responding to the
young child's feelings, we lessen some of the
stress of hurrying.
If we need to break a promise about taking a
child to a movie, the park, or the zoo, it is
very important that we apologize and make
School-age children are more independent
and more self-reliant than young children.
Consequently, they often seem to welcome
hurrying in the sense that they are eager to
Focus on the Present
If we concentrate on the here and
now, without worrying about
yesterday or tomorrow, our children
will do likewise. If you are a working
mother, enjoy the time you spend
with your child and don't spoil it for
him or her by worrying about the
time you were not around or about
the times you will be separated in
the future. Children live in the
present, and they know when we
are with them physically but not
mentally. By worrying about the
past and future, we lose the present
and our children don't have us,
even when we are around.
The Hurried Child
What can we do to help
children who are being
pressured to grow up
fast and who experience
this as inordinate stress?
For this age group, it is important that we
communicate our appreciation for all that
they do for us—helping around the house,
baby sitting, and so on—but also that we know
they are still children and that there are some
things they should not be burdened with.
As young people move into adolescence and
attain new, more complex mental abilities,
hurrying is again seen in a new way. Although
adolescents also perceive hurrying as a
rejection at a deep young-child level, they
begin to see it in more abstract, complex
Other Chapters in
The Hurried Child
terms. First of all, adolescents construct
concepts of ideal parents who are all-knowing,
all-good, and all-generous and then compare
their real parents with this ideal and find
them sadly wanting. This is one reason why
young adolescents criticize their parents for
the way they dress, eat, talk, look, act, and so
on. And when adolescents feel hurried by
parents, the criticism often reaches a frenzy.
Secondly, adolescents blame their parents
not only for hurrying them as adolescents
but also for hurrying them as children.
While school-age children rationalize parental
hurrying, they don't forget it. In effect, adolescents pay us back in the teen years for all the
sins, real or imagined, that we committed
against them when they were children.
❖ ❖ ❖
Hurrying children into adulthood violates
the sanctity of life by giving one period
priority over another. But if we really value
human life, we will value each period equally
and give unto each stage of life what is
appropriate to that stage.
In the end, a childhood is the most basic
human right of children.
Growing Up Slowly
Learning to Be Social
How Children React to Stress
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From The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (25th Anniversary Edition) by
David Elkind, Ph.D. Copyright © 2001, 1988, 1981 by David Elkind. Preface for the
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition copyright © 2007 by David Elkind. Summarized by
permission of the publisher, Da Capo Press.
288 pages. $16.95. ISBN-10: 0-7382-1082-X; ISBN-13: 978-0-7382-1082-7.
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The Hurried Child
take on adult chores and responsibilities,
particularly in single-parent homes, where
they may try intuitively to fill the role of the
absent parent. The danger with this age
group is for parents to accept this display of
maturity for true maturity rather than for
what it is—a kind of game.