When our grandparents were young, they had only one coat for winter. Only one! At that time, having a coat was considered a luxury. Therefore, children treated it as a valuable asset. In those days everyone had the mínimum for survival, and children were aware of the value and importance of the few things they owned.
Much water passed under the bridge since then, and we have all become more sophisticated people. We like to have many opportunities and do our best so that our children have everything they want and, if possible, much more. But we don’t realize that pampering them too much we’re creating an environment in which mental disorders proliferate.
In fact, it has been demonstrated that excessive stress during childhood increases the likelihood that children develop psychological disorders. Thus, a systematic child can develop an obsessive behavior and a little dreamer may lose his ability to concentrate.
In this regard, Kim Payne, professor and consultant, conducted a very interesting experiment in which simplified the lives of children diagnosed with the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. After just four months, 68% of these children went from dysfunctional to be clinically functional. It was also observed an increase of 37% in their academic and cognitive skills, such a positive effect that could not compete with the commonly prescribed medication for this disorder, Ritalin.
These results are extremely interesting and also a little scary, because lead us to ask ourselves if we really are giving our children a healthy environment, mentally and emotionally.
Where we’re wrong and how can we change?
When a lot becomes too much?
Early in his career, this professor was busily involved as a volunteer in refugee camps, where he was dealing with children suffering from post-traumatic stress. Payne noticed that these children were nervous, hyperactive and always waiting for something, as if something terrible was about to happen at any moment. They were also extremely cautious to new things, as if having lost the innate curiosity of children.
Years later, Payne found that many of the children who needed his help showed similar behavior of young people who come from countries at war. But the strange thing is that these children were living in England, so the environment was completely safe. Then, why they showed typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress?
Payne believes that although children in our society feel secure under the physical point of view, they’re mentally living in an environment similar to that of a war zone, they feel as if their lives were in danger. Being exposed to too many stimuli causes a stress that builds up and forces the children to develop strategies to feel safe.
In fact, today's children are exposed to a steady stream of information that are not able to process. They’re forced to grow up quickly because adults are placing too many expectations on them, giving them roles that do not really belong to them. In this case, the immature brain of children is not able to follow the pace imposed by the new education, and generates a lot of stress, with the negative consequences caused by that.
The four pillars of excess
As parents, normally we try to give the best to our children. And we think that if a little is good, more is always better. Therefore, we apply a hyper-parenting model, becoming helicopter parents who force their children to participate in a myriad of activities that supposedly should prepare them for life.
What's more, we fill their rooms with books, electronics devices and toys. In fact, it is estimated that Western children have an average of 150 toys. It’s too much, and when it’s too much children are overwhelmed. As a result, they play in a superficial way, they easily lose interest in toys and the environment and don’t develop their imagination.
Therefore, Payne says the four pillars of excessive education on which is based the current education system are:
1. Too many things
2. Too many options
3. Too much information
4. Too much speed
When children are overwhelmed in this way, they don’t have time left to explore the world, reflect and release daily stress. Too many opportunities to choose from end up eroding their freedom and deprive them of the chance to get bored, which is essential to stimulate the creativity and learning that lead to discovering new things.
Gradually, the society distorted the wonder which involves childhood, and some psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the “war to childhood”. Let’s only think that over the past two decades, children have lost an average of 12 hours a week of free time. Even schools and kindergartens have taken on a more academic approach.
Moreover, a study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that when children practice structured sports become less creative adults compared to children who had a lot of free time to play. In fact, psychologists have noticed that modern games generates anxiety and depression. Obviously, it is not only about more or less structured games, but also to lack of time.
The best way to protect childhood of our children is saying “no” to the guidelines that the society is trying to impose. It means let the children be just that, only children. The way to protect the mental and emotional balance of children comes through educating them in simplicity. This requires:
- Not overwhelming them with extracurricular activities that eventually won’t help them
- Leave them free time to play, preferably with other children or toys that can stimulate their creativity, with unstructured games
- Spend good quality time with them, it is also the best gift that parents can give them
- Create a quiet space in their lives where they can take refuge from the chaos and stress of daily life
- Ensure they can rest and sleep enough
- Reduce the amount of information that comes to them, making sure it’s understandable and appropriate to their age, which also implies a more rational use of technology
- Simplify their environment, reducing the number of toys and making sure they can really stimulate their imagination
- Reduce the expectations about their performance, leaving them just be kids
Remember that children have a lifetime ahead to be adults, meanwhile, allow them to be kids and enjoy their childhood.
Bowers, M. T. et. Al. (2014) Assessing the Relationship Between Youth Sport Participation Settings and Creativity in Adulthood. Creativity Research Journal; 26(3): 314-327.
Payne, K.J. (2009). Simplicity Parenting. New York: Ballantine Books.
Modern education is damaging childrenJennifer Delgado