Monday, September 7, 2015

"The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues"

This blog post in the Washington Post well describes a phenomenon of parents, hoping to give their kids the best chance in life, controlling their kids so much that the children fail to learn the social skills and leadership which comes from free time, where children play with each other, make up their own games and parents are out of the picture.
What Angela Hansom describes about her relationship with her daughter, where she was overbearing and pushy with regard to academics--after all, what parent does not want his kid to be best in his classroom--is equally played out with parents who are obsessed with making their kids into sports stars or musical geniuses or beauty pageant queens:
Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself! Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations. “Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

As far as I know, this sort of thing did not exist when I was a kid. But once it gets going, it creates a momentum of its own for all parents (save perhaps poor parents who are often far less driven in this manner). If the neighbor kid is getting special coaching in baseball, and your kid wants to play baseball, your kid will be disadvantaged if he also does not get special coaching. Likewise, if dozens of children at your child's school are taking extra classes and getting help from tutors and so on, how will your kid be able to keep up with the others if he too does not get that extracurricular help? Because so many kids are now pushed in one respect or another to excel in a specialized area, it seems very tough to remove this parental behavior from our culture.

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