A hurried life.
In 1981 child psychologist Dr. David Elkind penned the book, The Hurried Child. In it, he noted that parents over-program and hyper-parent their children, thus turning the children prematurely into "adults." These super-kids are unable to have the emotional maturation to get along with real grown ups. The mismatch of expected premature adult behavior and emotional delay results in a stressful feeling for the child. Being a hurried child may not be identified as the cause of the feeling, and the hurried parent may not recognize her parenting skills contribute to the child's situation.
Being a hurried parent doesn't happen overnight. After the birth of the first child, a parent experiences increasingly new demands on her time, and she is on the path to becoming a hurried parent.
As her child ages, there are more demands on her time. Adding another child or two can make meeting the demands of the first child even more difficult. The parent also needs time for her own career, relationships, and family obligations, so for her to function effectively, she enrolls her child in activities with the hope that the child will enjoy and benefit from the experience. This is when the hurried child is born.
Parents who read to their child are supported by Dr. John Hutton's 2015 study that found that MRI scans of children aged 3 to 5 years had a "particularly robust" activity in the brain region where mental images are formed as they listened to stories; they have to put it all together rather than watching it play out on a TV or computer screen.
These children listened to stories from two nights a week to every night. It is recommended that parents have a regular story time with the child starting at birth. The intent is not related to literacy later in life, but to support cognitive, social and emotional development.
Our modern culture makes the hurried parent's treadmill very attractive. Parents may find themselves straining to keep the pace they have set for themselves. The fast lane of jobs, tasks, lists and obligations can overwhelm the children who witness the stressed parent. Some children may decide that being a hurried child can help the parent.
What is the hurried parent's role in the life of his hurried child? Dr. David Posen describes how parents transmit messages through belief systems. Beliefs are premises and assumptions, mostly held subconsciously, about how the world works. There are messages that run our lives (e.g., you should always be busy, success comes from hard work) or a subtler sigh of impatience from poor achievement.
When children observe the multi-job family, a calendar bulging with notations and daily deadlines, they get the message: their parent's time is tight and they should stay out of the way. With a demanding schedule, a parent creates a hurried child by keeping his child occupied with sports, music, karate, scouts, hobbies and possibly tutoring. The over-scheduled child senses that there are high expectations and a feeling that parental love is connected to their performance.
At some point, a parent may become aware that his family has a hurried life and try to change it. He may respond by declaring he will spend "quality time" with his child. For this to happen, a "quantity" of time is necessary. Due to a limited quantity of time, the quality time availability can be awkward. The child may not want to play Ping-Pong at 7 pm or go to the beach on a cool, cloudy day.
When the "quality-time" strategy fails, the parent can reconsider and pursue an alternate plan. This could be the time for the parent to make a decision as to what can be eliminated or minimized in family life for the family to function more effectively. Parents may enjoy the irony that their own life is slowing down by not over-programming, and hyper-parenting the children.
In addition to school and its related activities, possibly, one other activity chosen by the child is sufficient. This results in a break from multiple chauffeuring tasks and attendance at games and shows that overwhelm the datebook.
When more than one hurried child is involved, the parent will see a marked change in his agenda. The parent should to make a conscious effort to resist filling the resulting time with hurried parent activities.
There are families where the "hurried" lifestyle works. But, if the features of the "hurried" life are recognized and acknowledged to be difficult and not sustainable, it's time to stop, rethink and adjust.
By Joseph A. Girone, MD
Joseph A. Girone, MD is a developmental pediatrics consultant at Reading Pediatrics in Wyomissing, PA.