No class boundaries to childhood stress

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There are many ways to kill a childhood.

War or a personal tragedy can fast-forward a child into adulthood. And so can the crushing reality of childhood poverty. Three in 10 living in the nation's capital are feeling the weight of adult problems every day.

Those kids rarely have a carefree moment. The pressure of their situation squeezes them constantly, putting the joy of a simple exhale beyond their reach.

But wait a minute. Isn't that almost exactly what we hear from many of their more privileged peers?

They describe a life in which they aren't given the time to just go out back and play. They are crushed by their obligations and crippled by stress.

That was the theme in the "Race to Nowhere" documentary, screened last week in Bethesda by Walt Whitman High School's "stressbusters committee." (Seriously, they have assembled a committee to deal with out-of-control level of student stress.)

In the movie, children complain of being stifled by herds of ambitious parents who steal their childhoods.

No fun, no play, no failure.

That crime begins early here in the Washington region, where we have 5-year-olds being raced to the French tutor, violin lessons, the Tae Kwon Do belt test and on to lacrosse clinic.

We'll reserve the Latin verb camp for when they turn 6, of course.

Picture-book reading has become so three years ago as parents of preschoolers move past the tiresome machinations of a caterpillar and forge onward to more substantive chapter books.

Because, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien meant for the pull-ups set to relate to Golem.

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