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  • Our Hurried Children
     
    “The concept of childhood, so vital  to the traditional American way of life, is threatened with extinction in the  society we have created. Today’s child has become the unwilling victim of  overwhelming stress—the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and  constantly rising expectations.”

    When were these words written? If you are thinking they’re from  a recent educational symposium or an address by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne  Duncan, you would be wrong. The words  are from 1981, written by then-controversial child psychologist and author  David Elkind, Ph.D. What, we said? Our children hurried? How could that be when childhood in America is as  sacrosanct as Mom’s apple pie and the 4th of July?

    Because it was true. In 1981, when Elkind’s book "The Hurried Child" was first published, I  was a preschool teacher at Bing Nursery School, the laboratory preschool for the Psychology Department at Stanford   University. A newly-minted  graduate of Stanford with a B.A. in Psychology, I had just landed my first job: working as a teacher at Bing.

    This was a few years before the publication of Elkind’s  book, and I was excited to work with the ‘Bing kids,’ famous for their  intelligence, curiosity, and unique way of looking at life. Our students were, after all, highly sophisticated four-and five-year olds!

    Born of well-educated parents whose employers featured names  like Hewlett-Packard, Stanford University, IBM and brand-new Apple Computer, these children had parents who were dedicated to the raising of  their offspring. Only the best would do: If parental work schedules conflicted  with drop-off and pick-up times, the kids arrived via au pair or taxi. They had  dance lessons, violin instruction, tennis and tae kwon do, art lessons and  more. These were truly the most enriched children  ever to attend preschool.

    And yet they were overscheduled…and lonely. I vividly  remember one little girl sighing wistfully and saying, “I’m so busy that I  never get to see my mom!” She was four years old. As parent conferences and  home visit became increasingly difficult to schedule because of family work and  travel schedules, we realized that precious daily parent/teacher conversations  were being replaced by conversations with au pairs and caregivers. Since our  students were very young, they often mistakenly referred to us – their teachers  – as “Mommy.” Wishful thinking? We sometimes thought so.

    So, what has changed in the last 30 years? Why are we still  talking about our stressed-out, overscheduled, sleep-deprived students? Surely  we can do better. As the documentary Race to Nowhere so accurately depicts, our students are under more pressure than  ever before. What are we parents to do? The first step is recognizing that the  problem is not new and understanding  that pointing fingers and assigning blame (it’s the parents, the kids, the  schools, the teachers, the ‘system’) only adds to the problem.

    And then…my daughter got into Stanford. I now find myself forced  to ‘walk the walk’ rather than just ‘talk the talk.’ It’s one thing to talk  about modeling a balanced life and setting reasonable goals for your child.  It’s quite another to do so given the high-stake pressures of today’s academic  world!

    Stanford has changed, society has changed, and we have  changed—now it’s time for all of us to  take an honest look at the pressures and expectations we put on our children.

    Posted by Ms. Charlene Scholtes Margot in Bing,Stanford students,college,education,family,preschool,race to nowhere,schools,stress,students,teaching,the hurried child  on Jun 8 2010 5:41PM | 1 comments

    Permalink: https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/blogs/post-view/?ciid=3033

Comments (1)


  • Ms. Susan Leslie Helfter

    I like the sentiment that this is not new, and/or caused by one specific source.  Has anyone considered or written studies comparing underserved youth to the overscheduled youth?

    Posted by Ms. Susan Leslie Helfter on Mar 15, 2011 6:09 AM

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