Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ships Without A Shore - America's Undernurtured Children

Anne R. Pierce, author of Ships Without a Shore: America’s Undernurtured Children is a lady with whom I appear to wholeheartedly agree. I am about to start reading her book and will report back.

I like what she says about "relaxing at home". This is something Marc and I have worked very hard on protecting. We've tried to make our home an oasis of calmness. Every so often I look at the lives of some of our friends' children and worry that I am depriving Ben and Shira because we are rigid about limiting extramural activities. We all become unglued when we don't get enough calm time at home. I know in my heart of hearts that we're doing the right thing, but every so often I get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses and worry that our children are going to be losers in the competitive race that I see happening around me.

Then I remind myself that children who have unhurried lives with lots of time to think and explore tend to be more creative, and as Daniel Pink says, it's the creative skills that are becoming increasingly more important in the US economy.

Enough of my rambling, this is what Anne Pierce has to say.
Childhood is nearly lost. In fast-paced, competitively charged modern America, there is unyielding pressure upon children of a younger and younger age. Today, tiny toddlers in uniforms gather on fields and in gymnasiums, with frustrated coaches imploring them to “listen” and learn the rules of the game. Young children expend their energy on long days in group situations, in structured activities and after-school programs, on team sports and music and athletic lessons. Teenagers build resumes and prepare feverishly for the future. Super-parents are raising super-kids, supposedly capable of both outstanding academic and artistic performance and athletic prowess.

For much needed relaxation, our high-performing children collapse in front of the TV, computer or “play station,” the now defining features of homelife. “Relaxing at home” no longer signifies shelter from corruption, nor does it signify quiet and repose. A veritable storm of lurid, violent and sensational “entertainment” now inundates our young, robbing their innocence. (Highly orchestrated teenagers are especially vulnerable to media-induced definitions of relaxation and release.) There is little room in this scenario for idle contentment, playful creativity, and the passionate pursuit of interests. Our busy lives leave too little time to question whether all this busyness is necessary and whether the content that fills our children’s lives is good.

We have become unsympathetic to exhaustion, vexation, and demoralization, seeing them as necessary corollaries to high achievement. ”Come on you can do it” parents shout as children “try again” to achieve the perfect pitch of the ball, the perfect ballet pose, the perfect runner’s mile, the perfect musical performance. Thus, we are taken by surprise when success strategies backfire; when, instead of gaining momentum, children and teenagers lose energy, motivation and enthusiasm. But, this end result simply makes sense. For, it takes freedom to be creative, time to be a thinker, and opportunities for independence to become inspired. Moreover, when we emphasize outward displays of accomplishment over children’s actual moral and intellectual advancement, children feel a void.

It is sad to think of young children with little time for play. They are missing the multifarious opportunities that play provides: for relaxing, imagining, exploring, creating, interacting, relating and just having fun. Play in childhood is important both for intellectual growth and for psychological growth. Play is a way for children to relish the experience of childhood and way for them to prepare for adulthood. Teaching children to be tough and prepared for the world, achieving doers instead of capable thinkers,has its price. Children’s innate curiosity is intense. When that curiosity has no room to fulfill itself, it burns out like a smothered flame.

It is also sad to think of children whose innocence is disregarded. Innocence is vital. Innocence allows children a freshness and creativity which artists and writers since there was writing and art have tried to recapture. When we let children into a hardened adult world. we risk putting out their flame. Once a child’s need for trust in the world and in their parents is jeopardized, the child’s positive approach to the world is jeopardized. The child is forced to adopt a defensive posture; she holds her innocence at bay for fear that the world might get the best of her.

An alternative to the harried, preordained way of life we give our children would rest upon renewed respect for childhood and a reassertion of parental influence. Research shows that attachment and bonding with mother in the early years, and such moments of family togetherness as working in the yard, casual conversations and family dinners in the later years have a hugely beneficial effect upon childhood development. Children do need a “homelife” to which to retreat and from which to explore.


Michelle said...

It sounds like I agree, too! I do think childrens lives are far too hurried, rushed, and stressed these days. I know parents who are running every single evening to practices and events, and many times they are splitting up, with each parent taking a different child!

I have told my two that they can have one activity each at a time, and that is the limit. Mandy has chosen horseback riding, and she has stuck with that for a couple of years. She has a 30 min. lesson every other week. She recently showed interesting in learning guitar, and my mother agreed to teach her a few lessons to see if she really liked it before we invested time and money into it.

Victor goes to Karate, and has stuck with it for a couple of years as well. He started in Kindergarten. He goes for a 45 minute class once a week. Oh, he also plays T-ball in spring, but that entire "league" lasts for a total of 6 weeks, so I guess we have made an exception there.

I think it is far too much stress on kids to keep their grades up, do the mountains of homework required, and run every night to an activity, and most of them also go to before and after school programs while their parents are working.

These poor kid are going to burn out in their 20's.

Michele said...

Hear hear!
We only do one class at a time too. Rhiannon is committed to gymnastics right now, but I insisted on taking a break from any classes in August. I needed it!

Shez said...

I hear you on needing a break from your kids' extramurals. We also had a break in August. It was wonderful. Everything starts up on the 8th of September again. This time I am trying something new. While Shira is in choir practice, Ben will be in gymnastics. The gym is ok with me dropping Ben off early as I drive past on my way to take Shira to choir, and picking him up late on my way home from taking Shira to choir. I am really looking forward to this arrangement as I'll have an hour every Tuesday to sit and read with no one wanting a piece of me.