1.23.2013

The Hurriedness of Childhood Today







The divide between success and failure is so great now. One doesn't seem able to make a reasonable life out of existing in the middle.

We know that fewer slots are available for college admission, and even fewer for scholarships, requiring each student to have an extra edge to standout.

Musical expertise allows for that - an edge. We want girls to be comfortable with their body image - sports allows for that. In our adult mind, the sooner the better.

And we've been sold on this uniquely American idea that we must find our passion...and if our 15 year old hasn't done that yet, when will they? When a 12-year old says, "I don't play soccer very well and it's too late to learn," this message has come from somewhere.

I remember taking my son, aged 5 at the time, to play indoor soccer at the local YMCA. He cried at the buzzer and wouldn't leave my side. I felt embarrassed and somehow like I'd failed, as all the other little boys excitedly jumped right in. That was the maddest I'd ever been with him, bringing on such remorse and shame for my reaction that I really never pushed that hard again.



We are raising Renaissance tots, sort of the whole child that is capable to grow a garden, speak a second language, play an instrument, lotus and kiai. But, the darker side is pressure to perform. 


The difference between my childhood and the childhood of today, is the idea that today is incredibly and irrevocably important. Each and every moment counts (maybe this is partially wonderful!)  and mustn't be "wasted." If I, as a parent, screw up today, or don't take advantage of an opportunity, the consequences are dire. And, how better to do that than pack every moment with interesting, brain stimulating material...it's actually hysteria. Where once these activities were affordable to a wealthy few, it's no longer money-driven but time-driven.


Enrichment and creative stimulation aren’t always organized, structured, or quantifiable.

I was at the local park with five neighbor boys when someone walked by and asked if we were some sort of camp, that’s how odd it is to see unorganized children “messing around.”

Parents seems caught up in the hurriedness of childhood simply because they believe it keeps their kids safer (prophylaxis against bad choices, i.e. drugs, gangs, etc) and more secure (better job, music, sports opportunities) in the long run. Remember “the Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings”?

Parents have taken this profoundly to heart because our world feels risky and more uncertain than ever. At the core of this belief system are well-intentioned parents who are afraid that allowing children to “goof off,” or malinger aimlessly, results in danger and

failure.



What research actually shows is that children “norm” out…so the awkward 5 year old will eventually catch up to his peers, yet, his parents worry that he will be labeled, ostracized, bullied, unchosen.

Hence, most of my practice sees parents who a transmitting their anxiety to their children. 
Maybe one son is more quiet than the others, “more attached” and refuses sleepovers. Parents compare and contrast; this is human nature. So, a concerned Mom will bring him in for counseling in the hopes that he will detach sooner than his own temperament is allowing. As mom and dad become more anxious, child becomes more anxious. While he may not have felt conscientious about his lack of desire to join a team, he now begins to sense the he should want to join a team., creating anxiety and maybe even latency depression. There’s much more pathologizing and labeling personality traits, maybe even quirky behaviors as abnormal; something as harmless as doodling, hating sports, or having just one or two friends. Parents now wonder, will he grow up and be the next crazy killer?



Childhood is specifically about a variety of exposures…it’s a sampler of things to come. I often hear parents pressif you join the soccer team, you must finish the season. No quitting allowed.” That’s absurd and I challenge any adult to honor such a code of commitment. 
No, he’s not letting down his teammates…no other kids on the team are even remotely aware of who is present.  If he’s under the age of 10, he’s below the age of reason, let him quit ten sports teams before he finds the one he likes well enough to warrant leaving his cozy home and things for. 


Problem solving and executive skills come from having no rules, being without a map, and applying one’s own moral compass, basic education, and well-rounded sense of “I am loved.”