I have had several realizations over the past few weeks that have led me to the conclusion that as a society we are pressuring our children to grow up too fast, beginning sometimes before they are even born. During pregnancy women count down the days to their Estimated Due Date and become anxious as it approaches, and impatient as it sometimes passes by, looking for ways to induce their own labor through several different methods including one as vile as drinking castor oil. Once our children are born we can’t wait for the time when they are awake more, when they begin to sit up, crawl, and walk. We try to help them with this process by propping them up in the sitting position before their muscles have developed enough to sustain their weight, by using chairs that claim they help develop these muscles, and standing them on their feet before they have the strength to do so as well. As they become toddlers we begin thinking about how much easier it will be when they can talk, and understand more of what we are saying to them and actually listen and follow our commands. We try to get them to conform to what we want them to do, use words and concepts outside of their intellectual ability and discipline/punish them when they do not meet our exceedingly high and unrealistic expectations.
So what is the problem with giving our children a boost or head start? Isn’t it a positive thing to want them to succeed in life and do what we can to help them be successful? Well, it depends on how you do it. Although some of these behaviors mentioned above may not have a long term affect on your child, many of these behaviors are setting you up to establish a long running pattern of pressuring your child to be something they are not, creating a relationship in which your children feel that your love is conditional instead of unconditional. This type of relationship leaves children and teenagers feeling as though they do not have their parents support and that they are disconnected from them. It has been found that teenagers that experience this type of relationship with their parents have much higher levels of depression, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders, and other emotional disorders and symptoms associated with them. Let’s think about something as simple as potty training. Start too early before your child is physically and mentally ready and you will begin engaging in a power struggle with them, frustrated over every accident, and the process will be long enduring. As you become more frustrated you start using negative tactics such as telling them how disappointed and sad you are that they had an accident. What’s worse is your frustration with them will not only be in potty training situations but will spill over to other situations. The more frustrated and hard on your child that you become, the more the cycle endures, possibly leading to negative labels on the child and a relationship pattern that will continue.
Parents have been recently outraged due to companies such as Victoria’s Secrets launching provocative lines of clothing aimed at young girls and I fully agree with the inappropriateness of this and the irresponsibility of the companies. It is humbling to hear that parents have been making a difference in this and therefore I don’t want to say that we as individuals do not have any control over what these companies are doing but I think that we do need to start looking at our own behaviors that are causing our children to grow up earlier than they should be as well. We may not be directly putting our children in provocative clothing, handing them alcohol or cigarettes, or teaching them other behaviors we believe should be reserved for adults but our parenting style is indirectly leading them to this as they begin to feel older than they truly are. Don’t get me wrong, society in general also plays a part but if we can all look at our parenting behaviors and how they contribute, we may be able to help support our children instead of forcing them to grow up too soon.