About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

#95 - The Hurried Child

This one's a classic of sorts. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, by David Elkind (Addison-Wesley, 1981), is almost 30 years old -- laughably ancient, by pop psych or child development standards. Yes, there was a 25th anniversary edition published recently, but that's not the one I checked out; I've got the original golden oldie. Frankly, I was curious. The book is somewhat of a classic in the parenting/ childhood in pop culture genre; if nothing else, it has historical significance.

And for the most part, it was worth reading. Elkind's basic premise, to quote the Amazon review above, is that "by blurring the boundaries of what is age appropriate, by expecting -- or imposing -- too much too soon, we force our kids to grow up too fast, to mimic adult sophistication while secretly yearning for innocence." While his explanation of causes seems pretty dated -- he lays a lot of blame on divorced parents and working mothers -- the effects he cites are spot-on, and remain relevant even now.

Admittedly, I was pretty skeptical throughout the first chapter. Yes, after reading So Sexy So Soon, The Lolita Effect, and The Shelter of Each Other, I got a chuckle reading about 30 year old movies and songs -- Little Darlings, "Take Your Time (Do It Right)," and "Do That to Me One More Time" -- "[portraying] young people as precocious and [presenting] them in more or less explicit sexual or manipulative situations." But some of Elkind's claims here seem misinformed or just silly. John Hinckley, Jr. did not become a failed assassin because his older siblings' successes "preempted all the personal identities held out as valuable by his parents." And I'm not sure I buy that there was a trend toward "obscuring the divisions between children and adults" in the late '70s and early '80s, or that it was common for children to call parents by their first names during this time. (Not in my sorely non-representative, but not particularly conservative, either, home town, anyway.)

As the text goes on, though, Elkind offers some interesting points to ponder. Among them:
  • "Introducing preschool children to sports like skiing is in part symbolic. ... The statement is not only of conspicuous consumption but also of conspicuous concern: 'How concerned we are that our child get a head start, that he be the best.'" (He applies similar logic to those who push kids to read or play Little League ball before they're ready, too, just in case you're about to get your class- or education-conscious knickers in an "I would never" twist.)
  • Post-feminist mothers tend to suffer from role conflict: if you opt to stay home with young children, you might be looked down upon, sooo ... you take up hyperparenting as a competitive sport. (Hazel's side note: The more things change ... )
  • An educational system that's narrowly focused on standardized testing tends to make kids more interested in grades than in actually learning something. Increased cheating is likely here, too.
Not sure if I'll bother seeking it out for a while, but I'm curious as to what and how much has changed in the rerelease. In all, despite some of the late '70s/ early '80s silliness (yes, I've heard the hysteria about "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" being drug allegories, but "Hey Jude"? Paul McCartney wrote that one for Julian Lennon when his parents split up, fer cryin' out loud!), The Hurried Child began an important discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment