Medford, Mass. — In an effort to speed the learning process many of today's parents may be hurting their children by hurrying them. David Elkind, a professor of child studies at Tufts University, says many parents are giving their children too much too soon.
They are hurrying them into reading at age 3, into using computers in kindergarten, into assuming household responsibilities, and they are hurrying them into the car to hurry from one activity to another.
What these parents may be doing, Dr. Elkind says, is hurrying their children right out of childhood and straight into trouble.
All of this hurrying can put stress on children, Dr. Elkind adds. And that stress is contributing to a myriad of problems among children and adolescents, including, in extreme cases, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Children need to go from one accomplishment to the next according to their own timetables, Dr. Elkind says. Skipping tasks or not allowing enough time for them may speed up the child's ''learning clock,'' but it may also tamper with the inner workings and the clock may never keep accurate time again, he maintains.
Parents are pushing their children in two ways, according to Dr. Elkind.
Some may simply be making their children do too much, using up a child's energy and time on adjusting to new situations. A child who goes from a nursery school to a play group to dance class all in one day may be too busy.
Other parents may be making their children behave more maturely, Dr. Elkind said, asking the child's opinion on important family financial decisions, for example.
In either case, the result is a ''hurried child,'' a child who is expected to feel, act, and behave much older than his or her years.
''It seems to be getting worse,'' says Dr. Elkind, whose book ''The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast'' was published two years ago.
Parents who push their children too fast mean well, Dr. Elkind adds. They are trying to get their children ready to compete in what the parents see as a tough and changing world.
''The parents' behavior is based on a wrong intuition,'' Dr. Elkind says. ''Parents believe that the best way to prepare children for this difficult world is to expose them.''
But, he continues, the best preparation for adulthood is childhood.
''The best preparation for a bad experience is a good experience,'' he says. ''The best defense against stress is a healthy sense of self.''
What children need at home is time for exploration and emotional development, and too often what they are getting is academic work. Parents should not spend their time or their children's time duplicating what the schools do, he said.
''The focus today is on the educational, not on character,'' Dr. Elkind argues, ''and that (character) is where the parents should direct their energies.''
The parents' role is to socialize their children, to teach them manners and tact, not academics, he says. ''They need to teach kids to be kids, to be human beings.''
It is easy to spot a hurried child, Dr. Elkind says. ''The way to tell is to watch kids.'' Even young children let parents know when they are under too much pressure. They get whiny, drag along, complain too much, and cry at night.
The best way to handle hurried children is to slow them down, to make their days less busy, and to let them be the age they are, Dr. Elkind suggests.
If hurrying children has become a trend, Elkind's views may be generating a countertrend. Sales of his book were higher in its second year than its first, and the author is drawing audiences of over 1,000 for his lectures. He's booked for speaking engagements for the next year.