The Hurried Child

The Hurried Child by David Elkind

The Hurried Child: growing up too fast too soon was written by David Elkind, Ph.D. and originally published in 1981. The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition published by Da Capo Press in 2007 represents its third edition. The author calls attention to the crippling effects of hurrying children through life and blurring the boundaries of what is age-appropriate for them by expecting too much of them too soon and forcing them to grow up too fast.

The book begins with three prefaces. In the Preface to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition, Dr. Elkind describes the reinvention of childhood with infant education, out-of-home care for young children, the child as a consumer, the movement of childhood to indoors, and the technologically-empowered student as new issues. In the Preface to the Third Edition, he notes the additions he has made to the book to reflect the continuation of the old pressures and the introduction of new stresses on children.

To provide an index of how things have changed in ten years, he includes the preface to the second edition entitled Preface to the Revised Edition. He stated in the second edition that the view of children as a blank slate and as a growing plant had been changed to view them as Superkids with spectacular powers and competence that could be advanced quickly, a concept that has reduced parental guilt and anxiety, but to the detriment of their children.

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 – Our Hurried Children and Part II – Hurried Children: Stressed Children. Each part has five chapters.

Chapter 1 – Our Hurried Children describes some of the influences of our changing culture that put added pressures on children. Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau suggested that children’s learning must be nurtured by recognizing their own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling. However, as society moved to smaller family units and as divorce and single parent families became more prevalent, children began to be pushed toward more adult behaviors, including changes in children’s dress, sexual activity, alcohol and drug use, increased violence, and suicide.

Chapter 2 – The Dynamics of Hurrying: Parents reviews three sources of stress for parents: they are more afraid, more alone, and more professionally insecure. This has led to them being self-absorbed. Facing the unstable situations brought by the ever-changing society and their added stresses greatly affects their parenting. Job dissatisfaction and uncertainty seems to have resulted in parents’ disproportionate concern with their children’s success starting them in sports and other programs at earlier ages. Parental peer pressure puts undue emphasis on early reading and academic achievement. Some parents relieve some of their own stress by adding stress to their children to act as their partner in accomplishing chores and in decision making not normally assigned to children.

Chapter 3 – The Dynamics of Hurrying: Schools reveals the problems with the factory model of education that ignores individual differences in mental abilities, learning rates, and learning styles. Uniform standards measured by standardized tests place pressure on children and teachers. Also school curriculums have been changed to teach subject matter at earlier ages than previously done before children are mentally ready to accept the concepts taught.

Chapter 4 – The Dynamics of Hurrying: The Media shows the impact of television on children in introducing subject matter before they are able to understand it; however, the increased information creates a pseudo-sophistication in children. Children know much more than they understand. The chapter also discusses the impact of books and magazines, movies, and rock music on children.

Chapter 5 – The Dynamics of Hurrying: Lapware, Brain Research, and the Internet describes the effects of computer use on young children. Computer programs designed for infants called lapware purport to have educational benefits, however, these benefits can be acquired through other means with less risk. Although advances in brain research have introduced new understanding about how the brain works, the author cautions against translating the information into child-rearing practices. He describes the internet as a mixed blessing that is a tremendous resource for helpful information but also contains some risk to accessing offensive material.

Chapter 6 – Growing Up Slowly describes some of the major achievements and some of the limitations of the major stages of childhood development defined by Jean Piaget. The effects that hurrying has upon intellectual, emotional, and social development are discussed in each stage. Each stage brings dramatic changes in intellectual capacity, in emotional attachments, and in social relations, and when children are pressured to grow up fast, important achievements may be skipped and cause problems later.

Chapter 7 – Learning to Be Social shows the family unit as a human relations training ground that teaches children how to socialize. There have been four theories proposed for how children learn social skills: by modeling behavior observed; modifying behavior through rewards and punishments; learning social rules; and identifying and internalizing parents’ values, beliefs, and prejudices. The author describes realities that promote social development as parent-child contracts: freedom and responsibility; achievement and support; and loyalty and commitment. These reciprocal contracting skills may be impaired in children who have been hurried.

Chapter 8 – Hurried Children: Stressed Children identifies stress as any unusual demand for adaptation that uses up energy reserves during the stress response. Children can be affected by responsibility overload, change overload, emotional overload, and separation from parents as a result of divorce or travel. School situations also produce stress in children as well as media overload.

Chapter 9 – How Children React to Stress shows that different factors affect how children respond to stress including their perception of the stress situation, the amount of stress they are under, and the availability of effective coping mechanisms. Free-floating anxiety can be seen in the form of restlessness, irritability, inability to concentrate, and low mood. The stresses of school can cause school burnout. Feelings of helplessness can cause children to become withdrawn, listless, and apathetic.

Chapter 10 – Helping Hurried Children offers a contract evaluation form for parents to use with their children to help them discern whether their expectations have been unreasonable and have caused stress in their children. How children perceive hurrying depends in part on their level of mental development as well as their temperament, past experience, and intelligence. The author gives insight into helping children deal with hurrying with the four major stages of development in mind. He also points out that the children’s perceptions of the stress they feel are valid for them, though not necessarily valid for their parents. He goes on to emphasize the importance of play as a natural way to deal with stress.

Dr. David Elkind is Professor of Child Development in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. He is the author of more than a dozen books including All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crises (1984), Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk (1987), Ties that Stress: The New Family Imbalance (1994), Reinventing Childhood (1998), and The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally (2007).1

  • 1. Elkind, David. The Hurried Child: growing up too fast too soon. 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. 2001.