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.