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by tyty
Rated: E · Critique · Cultural · #1183845
David Elkind's view of childhood, compared to mine
The piece “Our Hurried Children” by David Elkind, is an inside look on the declining nature of American childhood these days. Mostly to blame for this is our society, and the expectations that go along with it. Elkind believes that childhood today is not just declining, rather nearing extinction. Elkind then goes on to say that this extinction is not only affecting children as far as their expectations go, but in almost all walks of life. Their clothing, eating habits, leisure activities, and so on are all being dramatically changed to suit the roles society would like them to fit. The question is though; will this have a negative effect on children into adulthood? And, more importantly, if this continues, will the whole concept of childhood be erased completely from American culture.
Elkind starts out with how the “contemporary parents” of today have more of a stress-filled and constantly changing life than those of yesteryear. Today’s parents are expected to meet these demands at work and away from work, at home. Home is the one place where people can take a step away from these pressures, and although they are not eliminated completely, they mostly take a backseat to the more important things in life like spending time with one another. Elkind believes however, that this has taken a dramatic change with today’s youth then those compared to the past. Today’s children, as Elkind put it, are met with “bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations” much like their parents. It is obviously taking its toll on both the children and parents.
Elkind backs up his opinions with the teachings of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rosseau is credited as being the principal architect of our modern notion of childhood. Rosseau criticizes not only our society for the way it expects children to act, but says mostly to blame would be the schools our children grow up in. He says that is where children not only get their educational skills, but a great deal of their social maturity is learned at school too. In Rosseau’s piece, Emile, he states that “childhood has its own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than trying to substitute ours for theirs.” What this means is that children really have their own way of growing up and maturing, it can’t be pushed on them. Rosseau believes children grow up in four stages, and in each stage children have different characteristics, and should have corresponding educational objectives to meet.
Rosseau explains in this piece that the whole family structure changed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, mostly because of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution brought about the shift of work out of the fields and into the factories, thus creating the need for a system of education that could fulfill the needs of a whole society, instead of a single family. This educational change was the shift towards a mass education; the modern method of education today. Along with this shift in education, came the changes of family sizes. The single family size shifted from a larger size, in large part to help in the fields and other housework, to a smaller and “more mobile” to suit the needs of the work place.
This change not only progressed during this time period, but was becoming the standard for American families working in the industrial setting. As this was happening, so did research on the consequences of this change. Child psychology was being considered a scientific discipline, and even though initial research was unsubstantial and not to be considered ground-breaking, it did give other researchers a head start. One of the first of these researchers was a man by the name of G. Stanley Hall, considered to be the founder of the laboratory study of children. Elkind disapproves of Hall’s extensive questionnaires he designed to the parents of children, but regards his establishing of Clark University to be a great achievement. Elkind later explains about other researchers in this field who have had profound success through their writings and other works.
The topic of “Miniature Adults” is raised when Elkind further explains his earlier mention of childhood expectations. The title makes it straightforward that children today are not really looked at as their true self, but more so what society wants to see them as in the future, regardless of what that future really has in store for them.
The first expectation that Elkind describes is what children are taught in the classroom today. He says this changed dramatically in the 1960’s when parents were told that if children were not taught certain skills when they were young, they would lose a “golden opportunity” for learning. So, as a result, kindergartens were now open in about every state, and children were taught subjects once reserved for a later age.
The notion of children and their dress is also a topic of concern for Elkind. He mentions that in the past, like three or four decades ago, clothing varied with your age. A pair of pants for boys was almost looked at like a rite of passage. Today, children’s clothing is as Elkind mentioned earlier, “miniature versions” of adult clothing. The way children dress, affects the way children act, most of the time they are unaware of this. As Elkind further addresses the changes children endure because of the way they dress, and what the media expects them to be, he begins to explore the vast subject of teenage adolescence. The teenager today, Elkind states, “find that many adult prerogatives-which they assumed would be their prerogative-such as smoking, drinking, driving, and so on, are denied them until they reach a certain age.” Teenagers often associate themselves with many of these “adult behaviors”, Elkind blames it mostly on the way they were brought up. He states that teenagers feel betrayed by a society that tells them to grow up fast but also remain a child, and that stresses when they were children eventually catch up with them and affect their behavior.
With the mention of the previous “adult behaviors” teenagers are experiencing today, the topic of sexual behavior is raised, and some startling statistics are brought up with it. One of these statistics is the consequences of teenage pregnancy. “About 600,000 teenagers give birth each year, and the sharpest increase in such births is for girls under fourteen!” (334) This enhanced sexual activity is a result of the media’s image of teenagers portrayed in magazines, television, etc. Elkind also believes that changes in social values, women’s liberation, the exploding divorce rate, and decline of parental authority are all very valid reasons for this disturbing trend. Teenage crime is also heightened these days compared to the past, and Elkind believes this is for the same reason sexual activity has become a trend.
Elkind brings up an interesting point when he says that the parents that don’t let their children believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, allow their children to dress and act the way they do. He looks at it this way, for parents the idea of Santa Claus is just a fantasy, so it is dishonest. But these parents contradict themselves when they want their children to be like adults, because a child or teenager does not know the true responsibilities and the relationships that adults experience.
The whole idea of “loving and working” is not to be experienced until later in their life. With this being said, Elkind says that all the factors and influences that children are subjected to, particularly the ones that want them to mature rapidly, contradict themselves. A child will grow up and mature based on the experiences they have, not on the way they act and dress. These forms of being like an adult only give the children a perception of adult life, and ignore the real situations life has for them in the future. No matter how children dress or how much they resemble an adult, they are going to look at life differently. The way they see things, the opinions they form, and the feelings they theorize are what makes them an individual, not part of something.
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