Slowing Down The Fast-Track Child
One of the most frightening aspects of childhood stress is how much earlier in life children are exhibiting signs of stress disease. Being subjected to excessive stressful pressures can lead to problems such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers and high cholesterol, to name a few. Constant bombardment of our children’s senses and instant gratification has led to a new class of child – a child who always has to be in a hurry. Most children today are so rushed that their manners are atrocious, they cannot tolerate boredom, and their most common complaint is “I’ve got a headache” or “I’m too tired.”
The level of stimulation being experienced by children has increased dramatically. From the educational world to the entertainment world, from a greater variety of extracurricular activities to music that rattles our adrenaline with heavy rhythmic beats, I am convinced that kids today are experiencing too much of a good thing. Add to this the fact that childhood is becoming increasingly dangerous as violence becomes more common in our schools, and the future doesn’t look bright for babies growing up in today’s world!
The Stress No One Talks About
Much of the research probing the causes of childhood stress has focused on the effects of traumatic or unpleasant events in life. For instance, I have long been interested in the damaging effects of divorce on children. But the unpleasant experiences of life are not the only sources we should be concerned about. The major source of stress in today’s children seems to come from the overstimulation we unwittingly impose on our children. It is not earthquakes, tornadoes, divorce, school violence, or schoolyard bullies, bad as these may be, but the stress that comes from apparently enjoyable activities that go too far. Kids need time to be kids, and not have every spare second scheduled with structured activities. Parents need to be concerned about dangerously overstimulating their children.
This is the stress that no one talks about – the stress that comes from too much of a good thing. It has created a special breed of children: fast-track children. And most kids have to be on a fast track just to keep up. After all, who wants their kids to come in last in the game of life?
The Dangers of Creating Fast-Track Children
What this often means is that the quality of life we offer our children is less than desirable. They are so pressured that they cannot get a good night’s sleep or do something relaxing without feeling guilty.
What happens to fast-track kids? Fast-track kids suffer from double jeopardy – too much pressure and too little quality family time. Many parents are themselves on a fast track, especially if both are working, so they cannot pay attention to building a quality home life or teaching such essentials as good manners.
Fast-track children are often overindulged. They are given things instead of love, and lack solid values because their parents feel too guilty to set boundaries.
Fast-track children cannot tolerate boredom. They need constant stimulation and instant gratification.
Fast-track children cannot entertain themselves; they have to be entertained. They require ongoing high-strung activity to keep them interested, and we have run out of healthy, high-stimulation activities!
Fast-track children lose their capacity to experience God. Children who are being pushed too hard and too fast invariable turn away from God. Time is the key to developing a relationship. “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10 (NASB). With no down time allowed to pause, reflect and feel genuine emotions, how can we expect children to truly be in touch with themselves or their heavenly Father?
Achieving a Balance
We all want the best for our children. Some children have to be pushed in order to achieve and not everything about our modern life, including the Internet and modern day entertainment, is detrimental. But we must seek a balance between stimulation and relaxation, between excitement and boredom, between the hard work of achievement and the tranquility of stepping out of the fast track. How can parents achieve this balance?
Pay attention to the stress symptoms your child is exhibiting. Those headaches, complaints of tiredness, tummy aches, and sleepless nights are not to be ignored! Move to a slower pace.
Build in regular “relaxation” time for the whole family. “Idle” moments give our bodies time to rejuvenate and help to heal the effects of stress. Don’t expect them to slow down when you yourself are rushing around.
Have fun together as a family. Laughter is one of the most powerful boosters of the immune system. It also lowers stress and enhances our brain’s natural tranquilizers. Result? We are happier and less stressed. Do fun things together, not apart.
Listen to your children’s complaints. Children have the right to be heard without being put down or ridiculed. Listening respectfully as parents helps prevent problem children.
Model a balanced life to your children. Obviously, this means in both your personal and spiritual life. Show them daily the reality of God’s presence. Above all, make sure your anger is under control. An angry home breeds the most stress disease of all.
The challenge to today’s parents is how to help their children reach their full potential without pushing them too fast or too far. It isn’t easy and must be done with balance. Unless your children can enjoy their road to achievement the final destination will be hollow and unrewarding. - Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR
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