Friday, October 11, 2013
Please don't "hurry up" the children
This week I read a book that really has me thinking. I LOVE a book that makes me think. The book is entitled "The Hurried Child: Growing up Too Fast Too Soon."
The premise of this work is that in today's society we are pushing our children to sprint through childhood and move on to bigger and better things much too quickly and it is to their detriment. The author looks at everything from early reading and writing to premature exposure to sexuality and extreme violence.
Now, this isn't just based on some random guy's opinions on the matter, the book is full of research and study after study that supports the author's personal findings. Some of the information is pretty dramatic and extremely surprising.
The overarching idea here is that we (as parents, teachers, leaders etc) do our children a great disservice by forcing them to scurry past childhood into adult issues and problems before they are really ready. By doing so we sabotage their progress and deprive them of learning experiences which would prepare them to face adult concerns later in their lives. The author links this "hurry up" behavior to issues like gang violence, suicide, depression, divorce and a myriad of other societal woes.
One particularly intriguing fact about this book is that the author was able to document the harmful effects of this "hurry up" behavior...and his book was written in 1981. That's right ladies and gentleman, this psychologist charted the dangers of this practice more than 30 years ago! Some of his comments are almost laughable because we have progressed along this sad path so much further than when the book was written.
Now, I don't agree with every word he wrote here, but I find merit in his work. I have watched first hand as people I know...and sometimes it's me that I'm talking about...treat children as their peers rather than their children. They expose youngsters to adult themes instead of protecting and preserving their innocence as long as possible. They expect kids to rationalize and decision make in an adult way when said kids don't have the experience to bring understanding. They place emotionally overpowering ideas, decisions and pains on the backs of youths expecting them to buoy up the adults around them and to make informed choices that they are not mature enough to fully understand. Sometimes they trivialize childhood as though it is a disease to be overcome rather than an important learning stage.
I had my first personal experience with this sort of thing when my oldest son was four. Even though it was small and (hopefully) not too damaging it was still a powerful experience for me.
At a play group, a couple of moms told me how their children (who were the same age as my son) had started reading on their own. They smiled semi-condescendingly when they learned that my little boy couldn't read yet (or that's how I felt).
I felt sheepish and, honestly, a little bit jealous. It hadn't occurred to me to teach my son to read. We read stories together every day and were learning our ABC's together, but I hadn't thought to take things further than that.
Well, I decided if they could do it so could we. I was not going to have my very bright and capable little boy be left behind.
So I started drilling (yes, looking back that is exactly the right word) Bryce on letter sounds every day. At first he was pleased to be learning something new, but soon it become a bit of a dreaded drudgery. I wanted to work on sounds several times a day and he had other interests (like dirt and Lego's).
Pretty soon he had the letter sounds down pretty well so I started trying to force him to sound out simple words so that he too would be able to read. Remember that he was only four years old.
My turning point came one evening when I was sitting in his room with him drilling again. I was starting to get frustrated because he just couldn't put sounds together to make words. I remember huffing a nearly angry breath and looking down at him.
And that's when I saw it.
I saw this little boy who wanted so badly to please me. He wanted so much to do what I was asking, but it just wasn't clicking for him. He had tears in his eyes, and I was the ogre who put them there.
I stepped back. I realized that there is no requirement that four year olds be able to read. I realized that this little guy had talents and skills and loved learning IN THE WAY THAT WORKED FOR HIM AND IN A TIME THAT WORKED FOR HIM TOO. Reading at age four was not right for my young son (maybe it is for yours, I don't know, that is for your family to decide). I needed to reign myself in and allow him to be little. I needed to let him explore and discover and make mistakes and unearth new understanding without forcing him to rush through an extremely important phase of his life. I need to encourage and support him rather than dragging him through my agenda for his life.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not saying we should never push our children to grow and progress -- that is extremely important. I'm not condoning complacency or settling for the least possible passing effort. What I am saying is that this whole growing up thing is a marathon, not a sprint. Let's encourage and help them along their way instead of forcing them to try to gallop when what they need is to trot.
(As a side note, Bryce did enter kindergarten without the ability to read on his own...but he has managed just fine. He is now in 8th grade and is a voracious reader who devours any book he can get his hands on. He reads faster than I do and reading has become one of his favorite recreational activities.)
So what if our kid doesn't know the name of every letter when they enter kindergarten? Will his or her life be ruined by that?
So what if our sixth grader isn't interested in classical poetry? (I happened to have recently had a sad moment where all six of my children scoffed at me as I tried to share with them a lovely Robert Frost piece, but they wanted me to read Shel Silverstein to them instead.)
So what if our budding violinist isn't first chair all the time? How many of these young learners really grow up to be professional musicians?
And more than that, is there really merit in pushing our children to experience everything life has to offer before they exit middle school? Why do they need to be exposed to graphic sexuality, radical violence, extreme language, and other coarse concepts? Are we protecting them by forcing them into the deluge of explicit information, images and experiences that are available just because we can?
We can try to force our kids to mature fast, but what are we really doing? We are handing them the cliff notes on life rather than letting them revel in the language and imagery of the real creation. We are shoving them into the deep end where they will likely struggle to breathe because they have not had the gradual building of knowledge and understanding that equip them with a powerful grasp of who they are in this world. Not awesome.
Dig for worms instead of watching a drama.
Laugh at knock knock jokes rather than scoffing at how childish they are.
Don't force fashion to become more important than personal choice.
Be careful what you talk about in front of small ears.
Happily enjoy dress-up rather than pushing a love of make-up.
Try not to let your problems dribble into your child's tablet of worries.
Listen to what children have to say even if it seems silly (and it will seem silly sometimes, what you and I have to say is silly sometimes too).
Indulge the inkling to pretend.
Watch for chances to teach tiny lessons (not everything needs to be addressed in a sermon) -- and smile when you do it.
Remember that mistakes are some of the very best learning experiences ever.
Sing your babies to sleep at night for as long as they will let you.
And most of all, decide that childhood is beautiful and it is something to be reveled in not rushed through. Don't hurry your way through your chances to teach and lead your small ones. It is a beautiful thing to watch them grow.