Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Please Be Proud of Me"

By Pam Kenney

“Please be proud of me even if I don’t get all the answers right…”

The publication in 1981 of David Elkind’s The Hurried Child focused national attention on a growing trend by educators and parents to push our children to grow up too soon. Schools taught kids to read, write, and add at earlier ages than ever before; parents prodded them to excel. The hours after school, on weekends, and even during summer breaks were filled by music lessons, sports practices, academic enrichment classes, and specialty camps. Elkind worried that our increasing tendency to push children to achieve success early would have a disastrous effect unless we changed our collective expectation.

Almost 30 years later we not only haven’t mitigated the pressure we place on our children, we are hurrying them more than ever. When I was an elementary school principal, I worked with children who were under so much stress from unrealistic parental expectations that their fingernails were bitten to the quick, they lied to their parents about assigned homework, they cried in school when they couldn’t grasp a new concept immediately, and they hid or threw away papers with even average grades on them long before they could reach a parent’s hand. Every teacher recognizes the panicked look on a child’s face when she realizes she didn’t do well on a test. “Mom’s/Dad’s going to kill me!” is a too common refrain.

Something’s got to give because:

-Although the overall suicide rate decreased slightly from the early 1990s through the early 2000s, the rate of teen suicide increased 6%. For children 10-14, the suicide rate increase during the same period was 100%. According to the CDC, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young people from 10 to 14.

-Child psychologists report a staggering number of youngsters with chronic stress-related headaches, stomachaches, phobias, and free-floating anxiety.

-Girls as young as seven or eight are dieting to achieve an impossible standard of thinness.

-Serious sports-related injuries have increased several-hundred fold for elementary age children.

Experts offer a variety of suggestions for parents to begin to come to grips with the hurried-child syndrome. I’m certainly no expert, but my plea today is for parents to relax the expectations they have for their children. School is a place to learn, and learning is a process. No child understands everything the first time, and some children need weeks of patient instruction before they can grasp a concept. For some children, learning to read is a slow, painstaking process, but eventually they will read. Learning math facts is torture for other kids, but they’ll remember them at some point.

Please try hard to emphasize the positive when talking to your child about grades. If a mark is lower than you had hoped, find out what the trouble is. Look for progress during a school year and help her set realistic goals for improvement. Expecting your child to make straight A’s is almost always unrealistic and unreasonable. Above all, please don’t yell, spank, or restrict privileges when your son or daughter brings home a grade lower than an A or B. A raised voice and punishment not only don’t motivate your child to work to improve his grades, they dangerously undermine his self-confidence and sap his incentive to learn.

Children want desperately to please their parents, and they should be doing just that. They work hard and try their best day after day in school. I firmly believe that our children are gifts to us. As parents, one of our gifts to them must be to expect a lot less perfection, to remind ourselves every day that they are works in progress, and to let them know by word and deed that they are loved.


Ed Latham said...

I agree that our youth have been increasingly expected to act more and more like mini adults and not act like children. I get the pleasure of working with hundreds of teachers around a good chunk of the state. In my travels I have seen teachers that have forgotten that children LEARN differently than adults as well. So not only is there a social push, direct or inadvertent, to make younger kids "act their age" (be more like an adult), but children are not even being treated like children universally in the buildings where they spend 1/2 of their waking hours of life for over a decade.

I study games and I look into gaming cultures. I don't see many adults playing socially strong games any more. I don't see kids gravitating to socially strong games. I am not including the arranged games of competition where adult egos are more at stake than any sense of fun and learning. I also do not include digital games which have many arguments and discussions going as to the quality of those games. What I do hear often from parents and students is parental figures stating something like the following. "Well, Ed, you are now 13 years old! It's about time you stop playing all the time and start getting to work so you can become a man." The more I listen to parents talk about their kids, the more I am hearing these sentiments. The more I talk to kids, the more I hear about how bored they are or how all the toys they have are just stupid and boring. The kids don't even know about social entertainment! A "skill" that was the only thing children were expected to know and do only a generation or so ago. In fact, parents would say "go play" with the expectation that the child would be back after sun down. Try that now. You get the kid coming back in 10 minutes saying "That's boring" or "That was stupid". I am floored when I think of the implications of how our youth have to have parental organized functions in order to have any social play. Well, mom and dads out there, you are getting your wish. Your son or daughters are growing up and getting to work and taking life more seriously. In return, your pressures to push them into adulthood are creating a society of people that will have to be entertained by someone or something when they are our ages or they will find some deviant play because it seems that socially deviant behavior gets all the press, attention, the videos on you tube and most of all attention from parental figures and some sort of social entertainment.

Ed Latham said...

If you are ever lucky enough to see a group of children together now adays, please stop by and encourage their play. Heck, almost every adult I know needs to kick off their shoes and jump in with kids and play more. We adults have to be the most stressed out organisms alive that claim to be "happy". Sadly, if you survey your adult friends and find out what is fun for them, you will find that more and more, socially engaging fun (not the ultra competitive ego league stuff) is going away.

I propose that adults need to learn to play, with other adults and with kids, in order for some of the stresses imposed on our kids today to be lessened. Without play, there is no joy in life. Without joy, life is just work and our kids know what we adults have been in denial about for decades. Parents are so stressed out that a child can not "hurt" or "bother" their loved parents by acting their true age. The stress of parents allows for so little patience for the noise, the mess, the space, and for the time that children at social play requires. Quote from a student, "If it comes down to having friends over and building forts in the living room with sheets all day or making mom and dad happy by being quiet, clean, and out of their hair while they are doing the bills this weekend ... well I guess I could just watch TV or look for something fun on You Tube." Our children need us. They need adults to help show them how to play socially and they need parents to model how to still have a life and manage our responsibilities. Most of all, our children need us to help teach them that it's ok to be loud with friends, make messes as our friends imagine and create, and "take up our time" by inviting us parents to come play. Go hug a child today and help teach them the joy of play and watch all this stress we impose on kids magically start to melt away, at least until the child has to "get back to work".

Pam Kenney said...

I agree with all your points, Ed. I wish you'd post what you wrote as its own entity, so more people would read it. We all need to be reminded to become a little less self-absorbed and spend more time interacting with our kids.