Archive for category David Elkind

Your Didn’t Make the Cut Kid

As a culture we need to relax when it comes to the social impulse to want to usher kids onto teams, Leagues, clubs, and any other extra curricular activity. This insatiable drive for carting children around to the next scrimmage, game, tournament; contest, club function, etc. may be doing more social, emotional, and possible physical harm, than good.

Parents, who may have an interest in athletics or a background in sports will me more apt to involve their children in organized activities, reconsider holding this notion for the later years. More recently our culture has had a real drive to pressure young people into organized activities because of the fantasy of shaping or molding their child into the next Ichiro, Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordon. This amounted pressure and expectation is stifling to a young mind that just wants try out, on their own volition, interest, and time.

David Elkind who has written extensively on the topic of our cultural crave for “rushing” children into adulthood, addresses this social trend of exposing young people too early to competition and adulthood is “wrongheaded.”  Furthermore he states how children can become status “symbols” for parents that may be experiencing dissatisfaction within their own life either at the work place or home and how this pressure to perform “better” can weight heavy on a young child’s mind.

Visiting my sister and her family following the wintertime holidays I was invited to watch my just turning five nephew, play in a soccer tournament. Generally I took an interest because I also played soccer in my youth, however I began playing at a much older age. The soccer tournament was hosted on a farm that had been converted over the last few years into a full suburban field of dreams for soccer mom’s, dad’s and other fanatics. My brother-in-law has devoted many years to the game of soccer, and becoming an assistant coach for his little ones placed him right in on the glory and glamour of the sport. After arriving at the field to catch my nephew in action, (recognized as one of the stars of the team,) my interest turns to distaste when I hear bombastic screams coming from approaching middle age men, watching as the veins on the back of their necks begin to bulge, in an effort to redirect five year olds to, “hurry-up” – “move the ball forward,” or “pay attention to where the ball is…” And I’m thinking to myself, “good god man… they’re only five and they can’t even find where they left their shoes, half the time.” As a teacher and uncle I make an effort to reset the tone with sympathetic shouts of: “You guys got it, just stick to it, and have fun!” or “Alright, way to go team!” Sure not exactly as macho or competitive, but what ever happened to cooperative games, the idea of just letting them have fun, and make some mistakes. And the old adage: “give the kid a break!”

In the end, my nephew’s team “lost” the game, leaving frowns and heads hanging low, with adult coaches taking the moping lead. The WIN mentality and the language of competitive sports is a rotten and inappropriate scenario for young minds. Adults need to take some time out to rethink how the reality of exposing children that leave the values of self-reliance, self directed activities, and cooperation second to none.

The ability to have more youth participation and less infringement of adult expectations, can provoke tightening of rules, assignment of position,  exclusion among participants, intrusive thought and judgement among teammates and other wise a unhealthy fixation on “winning.” Emotionally and socially organizations or groups that do not prioritize full cooperative participation driven by the interests and drives of children them selves, do not honestly or with sheer integrity have the full development and success of kids as number one priority. Structured play or games designed in particular by adults that exhibit a mentality of “us versus them” scenario needs to be weighed in at the center of the arena of deeper inquiry if our goal as adults is to provide optimal environments and experiences for a child’s growth. Before registering for another year of little league, soccer, dance class, or any other activity that prides it self around competition measurements of “success,” parents may want to take a critical look of the implications of this or ask some hard line questions: Does the activity thrive on cooperation over competition? Do the children have an active role in decision-making processes and in the sort of choices that benefit everyone involved mutually? Is there a competitive or non-competitive tone around coaches, parents, and other adults? Will this activity cause more stress in the child’s life or in the family? And has the child expressed interest in the subject, sport, or activity? Only then can we start to become better role models for our children.


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Saying Enough! to: SuperKids, SuperCultures, and SuperPowers

The pressure to grow up fast, to achieve early in the very great in middle-class America. There is no room today for the “late bloomer”… Children have to achieve success early or they are regarded as losers.
—David Elkind

“Super kids,” a phrase coined by Dr. David Elkland a professor of Child Study and author of several books, is a harmful social trend of rushing kids into academics and adulthood. Part of the “super kid “ psychology in his book MisEducation, Preschoolers at Risk, according to Elkland, is “getting your kids to excel.” The common mantra among parents, media, educators, and social behaviorists or scientists usually echoes something like this: the earlier kids have exposure to academic subjects the more proficient and successful in the world your child will become. Forget about any ideals of healthy socialization or emotional stability at school or in their community, we want four year olds blurting out addition problems and identifying every object they lay their little eyes on, or arbitrarily reciting letters and words, as if a puppet on a string.

Can early introduction and daily shuffle to soccer games, to ballet, to swimming lessons, to choir lessons, and then to school causing more harm then good? What exactly are we compromising by keeping kids busy every minute, filling them up with information, and interjecting academics every waking hour?

Today, kindergarten and preschool look like first grade, and pre-kindergarten programs look like kindergarten. It is not uncommon for kindergarteners and first graders to be staring at material being projected onto a screen, while sitting compliantly behind desks, as if ready to leap out of their skin. Some kindergarten programs require homework and expect all standards to be met or repeat another year. A kindergarten classroom that is developmentally appropriate should be teaming with sensory projects, such as sand, clay, gravel, or any oeey gooey substances or other objects that will prompt them to stack, build, sort, or experiment further. The utopian envisioning of our off spring becoming graduates of Harvard, professional athletes, or the next CEO’s has always been messages being spun by sociologists, behavior scientists, publishing companies, media, and others who have always inculcated an ideal that kids must strive for being Gifted and Talented if they expect to get a sort of “leg over” the rest.

Our country is ridden with a destructiveness of competition. Just read volumes of volumes of America’s pretexts for stirring conflicts or war around the globe. We describe our nation among over a hundred others, as a “superpower.” We’re a nation that wants to outdo others militarily, politically, and educationally. In the sixties we were up against Japan, wanting to use them as a model to rally for more academics at an earlier age, more homework, and an extension of school days. This symptom of nationalism, normally amounts to maintaining a sort of “superpower” superiority status on the economical global playing field. And the moment our elitist economical grip starts to slide, lack of schooling or academics is typically the cause of an illegitimate “economic plummeting.” The quick national “drum roll” to remedy the alleged “problem,” usually results in amping up the prescription of academics and standardized testing, without any account for how this affects young people socially, emotionally, or psychologically.

Culturally the message of “us against them” bombards the psyche in all directions from media, news pundits, talking heads, presidents, and cartoons (notice the similarities here.) Everyone is in competition, from game shoes, cartoons, sitcoms, movies, advertisements, politics, sports, there is always someone to be in cahoots with, and life becomes a hyperbolic frenzy of competitiveness in the air. Competition has caused a tsunami size wave of destructive power within our culture and institutions, and seeps right on in to our homes, almost impossible to avoid. But do we want this competitive neurosis to sink into our schools and homes?

At the core of competitive psychology so heavily indoctrinated into culture among schools, is the idea that my kid will surpass your kid on tests schools, on grades, in careers, onward into college, and on the ball field. Conventional schooling in particular is embedded with a competitive nature, through systems of grading, through series of testing, by orders of invasive assessments, or the undertones of one must compete or be left behind. And any kid not living up to the “superkid” mentality either gets “branded” as a drop out, a daydreamer, an underachiever, or a looser. Clearly, this ideology does not just a product of schooling, but has no defined boundaries, as the obsession with competition is ingrained throughout our culture, just tune into one hour on the Disney Channel, MTV, or any Virtual Reality TV show to find who the winners are. Competition runs rampant among culture like an untamed beastly ego that does not settle for less. There is the insatiable drive for more toys, more cars, more shopping, bigger homes, and generally more material possessions that comes with anyone who decides to compete. All of this competitive insanity should stay clear away from our thoughts and ideas defining how we interpret education.

It is worth paying close attention the distress and anxiety children may be encountering, as a result of speeding up adulthood.
Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW, in an article in Family Education , describes in shocking detail the increase in anxiety related cases among young clients:

Twenty years ago, I didn’t see children in my therapy practice who resembled burnt-out, career-driven, Type A adults. I didn’t see kids with chronic stress-related headaches, stomachaches and free-floating anxiety. I do now. Lots of them! Little kids. Big kids. Kindergarteners with stress headaches because they’re not learning to read fast enough (even though developmentally they’re doing just fine). Little girls who are afraid to tell their parents that they don’t want to spend four hours a day practicing ice skating or gymnastics. Ninth graders who tell me they have to play competitive league basketball all summer or else their high school coach will think they’re not serious about making next year’s team. Parents of a fourth grader asking me if I think their daughter has the “right stuff” for an Ivy League college. FOURTH GRADE!!!

So why then do we insist on putting kids brains through a academic meat grinder? This is what Elkind summarizes about in an article titled, Much To Early!:

Why, when we know what is good for young children, do we persist in miseducating them, in putting them at risk for no purpose? The short answer is that the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy. It is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty. It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes as much as or more than to improve the schools.

I would also add that is also about relying to heavily all what the “experts” may be saying, rather than trusting your own gut instinct, as to what your child needs to really thrive. There is much to gain through knowing and observing the interests of young people and entrusting in them to steer their own educational course, at their own pace.

Of course you cannot dismiss the boom of kids being enrolled into schools at an early age in today, as was as in recent decades. This surge towards getting children out of the home at an earlier age can be traced back to the sixties and seventies. “In 1966 only 60 percent of five-year-olds attended kindergarten, while in 1985, 82 percent of five-year-olds were attending public, private, or church-sponsored kindergartens programs,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also in the mid-sixties the national program “Head Start,” was pushing parents, in particular those of lower-income status to enroll their kids into pre-kindergarten, with media hype that kids need an early start. And never in our history, prior to this time, Elkind states, “has so many infants and young children been enrolled for extended periods in regular out-of –home programs.”

How do we measure the trend to enroll youth early into schools and the academic pressures this has on altering the natural social and emotional growth of a child? What are we really achieving by spoon-feeding kids at a younger age, another dose of academics? To truly access the damage of constricting play and replacing these critical moments for self-discovery with a barrage of instruction, instruction, and academic competitive strife, we need not look far for from antidote to the hysteria of making “superkids.” The answer may be provided within the comforts of our own home or community. Perhaps, then we can start looking inward at our hearts and the hearts of kids, giving the ego a rest, entrusting them to steer their way into their own calling, while paying close attention to the real needs that make the lives of kids thrive. And letting them be, well…a KID!

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