The Danger of Holding Our Kids to Adult Standards

“There’s a troubling kind of role reversal going on in American society today: As adults race to the bottom with childish antics…young children are the ones being forced to act like the adults.”

In a recent article published in The Atlantic, Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownupswrites,

The evidence is sobering. Behind the head-scratching headlines of 5-year-olds toiling at treadmill desks and a judge’s recent claim that a 3-year-old can serve as her own immigration lawyer lies a growing portrait of “adultification” of early childhood—that is, the imposition of adult beliefs and norms about how young children should behave.

Moreover, we increasingly hold our children to standards many adults fail to meet. And it’s doing them more harm than good.

When the Common Core state standards were first released without substantive input from early-childhood specialists, 500 experts published an impassioned dissent that questioned the basic foundation on which the standards were built: a gross misunderstanding of what it is like to be a young child. Since then, the evidence keeps stacking up that much of today’s preschool and kindergarten routine—including far too much scripted teaching known as “direct instruction”—may be yielding rote recall skills at the expense of the more sophisticated problem-solving skills. 

Christakis argues that our children are capable of greater profundity, empathy, and generosity than we recognize. Greater, even, than what we see exchanged among adults.

The obvious conclusion is that grownups are acting like preschoolers. But this characterization of young children is actually quite misleading. When given the opportunity, preschoolers are capable of far greater generosity and respect for their peers and sophistication of thought than people have seen on display this election season. Moreover, in today’s “no excuses” educational climate, they are held to higher performance standards, too. In fact, there’s a troubling kind of role reversal going on in American society today: As adults race to the bottom with childish antics that would have imperiled careers and marriages in previous eras, young children are the ones being forced to act like the adults.

What’s the solution?

The paradox of preschool is that young children only punch above their presumed emotional and cognitive weight when we treat them rightly as children, not mini-Me adults. This requires a more concerted effort to protect their playful, child-scaled environment and a commitment from adults to stop hounding them.

Interested in more? Click over to The Atlantic and read The New PreSchool is Crushing Kids, also by Erika Christakis.