Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 9:54 PM on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Keep it simple ... Sunday, redux

Point of Veiw

By Carmen Visan

Hurried child syndrome: A condition in which parents overschedule their children's lives, push them hard for academic success, and expect them to behave and react as miniature adults.

One symptom of the hurried child syndrome is forcing pre-school children to constantly take classes and perform other "enrichment" exercises to help them prepare for school. This is also called hothousing and the superbaby syndrome.

The concept of the hurried child was first proposed by child psychologist David Elkind in his now-classic 1981 book "The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast," warning against trying to push children into academics and adulthood too soon.

In the 28 years since that book was first published, he says the hurrying has only accelerated. His most recent book, "The Power of Play," (Da Capo Press, 2007), focuses specifically on how children are losing free, unstructured playtime, and the importance of play for children's development.

Pushing kids too hard, too early can lead to big problems down the road. Psychologists point to disturbing trends such as the tripling of the U.S. teen suicide rate since 1980; kids in elementary school suffering from stomach problems and depression; and the alarming number of children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in recent years.

A child's brain needs more than words and lessons and organized activities; it needs love and friendship and the freedom to play and daydream. All too many young children are spending more and more of their lives in environments so structured and regimented that there is little time to build friendships and nurture their imagination.

Today, children have eight fewer hours of free, unstructured playtime a week than they had 20 years ago. Worse yet, time spent with their parents is often limited as well, and what remains is rapidly filled up with hours of homework or, alternatively, hours of organized sports, television, computers and video games.

Current status symbols seem to be exhaustion, the ability to multi-task at younger and younger ages, sleep deprivation, not utilizing vacation, and over-scheduling.

If "supermom" was the failed currency of the 1980s and 1990s, are we doing right by our children to expect them to take over from that myth and become "superchildren"?

How about this: Healthy, resilient families, who know when the limit of scheduling has been reached and collectively they decide, "Today, we will cancel all of our appointments and stay home. And for the next school year, we will stay home and cook and eat dinner together two nights a week, without our uninvited 'guest,' the TV. And then we will go outside and play. And PLAY! Because WE decide what our benchmark for health and success are for our family."

Carmen Visan is a resident of Homer, a mother of a 5-year-old boy, and a psychotherapist in private practice. Resources used in this piece included: http://www.naturerocks.org/; www.allianceforchildhood.org; http://usplaycoalition.clemson.edu/index.php; www.ecoliteracy.org.