I hate the thought of bringing anyone down with a sad story, but when I was recently reminded about an incident that happened in the late 1990’s, I thought it was an appropriate time to broach a subject that has been concerning me for some time. Jessica Dubroff was a seven-year-old girl who died while attempting to become the youngest person to fly a light utility aircraft across the United States. It was a huge media event that ended up in disaster. Facing a sudden storm, the plane veered, stalled and crashed. This terrible accident resulted in new legislation being passed in the United States, prohibiting children from piloting planes. Imagine that was never a law before!
This tragedy made some people think seriously about a trend of our times. Children, it seems, are now often being hurried through childhood. The effects of this trend are generally not as dramatic or tragic as the effects of allowing a child to perform the adult task of piloting a plane, but they can still be profound and long lasting. In our eagerness to see our children succeed, we seem to be pushing them too hard, too soon. The process generally starts innocently enough. We enrol our children in a gamut of extra-curricular activities, sports teams, lessons and tutoring. Of course, there is nothing wrong in encouraging their talents and interests, or supporting their learning, but there is a real danger in excess. We want our children engaged, amused and busy, but before we know it they need a Day-Timer as big as any top level executive! At some point, our over scheduled and over harried youngsters are living their lives stressed out and exhausted. It is truly troubling to see, more and more, our society embracing the notion of making children competent to carry adult burdens. Time magazine said it very well in an article that noted, “Kids who once had childhoods now have curriculums; kids who ought to move with the lunatic energy of youth now move with the high purpose of the worker bee.” Yikes!
And then there is the growing trend of academically pushing our children which is also proving problematic. While it is true that the brain grows best when challenged, it is also true that these challenges should be developmentally and cognitively age appropriate and should not be the focus of their young lives. In wanting the best for our children, we seem to get caught in the trap that our child has to be better and smarter than every other child. Thus, our fixation on marks, report cards, standardized ranking, etc. It becomes all-consuming and quite frankly, not fair to ourselves or our children. Although not always easy, we really need to make it a priority to stop rushing our children through this most precious time of childhood. When children are hurried along to the next phase or the next level or the next thing, they miss out on all the joy of what’s right in front of them. Pushing children to be super competitive can drain the fun out of sports, games and activities. Teaching our children that winning is everything can lead to disappointment and angst and adds pressure that the young are not equipped to handle. “I work best under stress”, said no child ever! Let’s all slow things down a bit, let’s allow our children to be children. Growing up, learning, and facing the world head on, comes in stages and we shouldn’t be in too big a hurry for any of it.
Our children are young for such a short time so, with this in mind, let’s all press the pause button and free them up to experience all the fun and joy that childhood is meant to bring. If we are overly worried about making our children real-world ready, all we have to do is think about this quote from Susan James Massengill, “…with certainty know that your child will be potty trained, eat with a fork, drink from a cup, be done with a pacifier, and sleep in his own bed by his wedding day!” Kind of funny but definitely a reminder to stop to watch butterflies hop from flower to flower, jump in the puddles, wave at passing fire trucks, play outside, tell stories, enjoy sleep-in Saturdays, watch the sunsets and know that all children grow up and pretty much end up on a level playing field, whether they were exposed to math drills, elite sports camps or ranked first in their class in Kindergarten!
Principal and Co-Founder
Children’s Garden School