In recent years, a multitude of unusual illnesses have emerged within the modern human population, ranging from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Road Rage Disorder to severe smartphone dependency. However, one condition stands out as particularly prevalent: social anxiety.
A friend recently shared a personal experience, shedding light on this growing issue.
Her daughter’s class had a boy who excelled academically, ranking among the top in their class and even the grade. In order to exchange study experiences with the boy’s high-achieving parent, my friend added his mother on WeChat.
One day, the boy sent a voice message through his mother’s WeChat, saying, “Tell xxx (friend’s daughter) to bring me her handicraft project.”
Later, my friend realized the tone of command in his message and couldn’t help but complain, “Can you believe this child? Starting off with a commanding tone, without even using any form of address. It’s like his ‘study genius’ filter shattered in an instant.”
This made me wonder why some children excel academically but struggle in social interactions and emotional intelligence. Recently, I came across a video by psychology professor He Lingfeng, which provided some insights.
“We always think that we shouldn’t lose at the starting line. But the truth is, every skill has a critical period. It’s useless if you learn it too early or too late.
If you use the time when your child should be learning that particular skill to do something else, they will lack that ability.
For example, in junior high school, socializing is an essential task for children.
However, adults often tell their children, ‘Don’t make friends randomly, just focus on studying.’
When they go to college or graduate, parents will realize that the problem is severe:
These children, due to low emotional intelligence and poor social skills, face difficulties in interpersonal relationships at every turn. Eventually, they fall into a vicious cycle and gradually develop social anxiety.”
Upon careful consideration, this statement does make a lot of sense.
Apart from social anxiety, many adults’ various shortcomings are often a result of not following the rules of personal growth.
For example, poor self-care abilities are often seen in young adults who are unable to take care of themselves even in their twenties, as they missed the opportunity to develop independence.
Similarly, when children reach adulthood, their thinking becomes rigid and lacks imagination and creativity due to early and excessive knowledge indoctrination.
As the educator Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated in his book “Émile: Or, On Education”:
“Nature wants children to be children before they become adults. If we disrupt this order, we will produce premature fruits that are neither ripe nor sweet.”
Good education involves doing the right things at the right time. It is like farming, where the process involves winter storage, spring planting, and summer growth before reaping the harvest in autumn. Forcing growth may yield short-term results, but it hampers the child’s long-term development capacity.
01 A Few Years of Rushing Could Ruin a Child's Life
During a recent discussion, Professor He Lingfeng shared an intriguing anecdote that shed light on the potential consequences of early acceleration in education.
In the 1970s, as the college entrance examination was reinstated in China, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) established a special program known as the “Youth Class.” This program admitted a group of exceptionally talented children, aged 12 to 13, into university.
However, over the past four decades, none of these children have emerged as industry leaders, raising questions about the effectiveness of such an early acceleration approach.
While the authenticity of this specific case may be subject to debate, one undeniable truth remains: pushing children out of their natural environments and prematurely advancing their education can have unintended consequences. While these children may excel academically and professionally, it is crucial to remember that education is not solely about producing high-scoring machines but nurturing well-rounded individuals.
Children have their own unique cycles and patterns of growth. Excessive interference and acceleration may disrupt their natural development trajectory, leading them down unexpected paths that deviate from adults’ aspirations.
Neuroscientist and psychologist Bruce Perry has proposed a neural sequential model that outlines the hierarchical functions of the human brain.
This model categorizes brain functions into four levels, ranging from lower-level to higher-level functions:
1. Vital functions ensuring respiration and heartbeat.
2. Coordination of motor functions.
3. Regulation of emotions and affective functions.
4. Cognitive functions related to learning and thinking.
According to Perry, the primary developmental focus of children varies across different stages:
During the prenatal period, the emphasis is on the development of vital functions.
In the first year after birth, children concentrate on controlling their motor skills and developing physical abilities.
Before the age of seven, the primary focus of development is on emotional functions. This includes resilience, a sense of security, social skills, rudimentary cognition, and the ability to regulate emotions.
As children are not yet physiologically prepared for prolonged periods of seated learning, they benefit more from engaging in play and experiential learning. This allows them to explore the world through their own perceptions and develop these essential abilities.
This is also why internationally, the period before the age of seven is commonly referred to as the “preschool age.”
Preschool age, as the name suggests, refers to the age before formal learning and is not intended for knowledge-based education.
Forcing children to rush ahead and prematurely engage in the fourth stage of cognitive thinking may indeed provide short-term advantages in learning.
However, in the long run, this approach hinders the healthy development of a child’s mind, resulting in more harm than benefit.
As early as 50 years ago, a large-scale longitudinal study was conducted in Germany. It compared 50 kindergartens that focused on play-based activities with 50 kindergartens that emphasized academic training.
The results revealed that the academic-focused children only maintained their advantages until the fourth grade, after which their performance began to decline rapidly. In terms of academic achievements and cognitive development, they fell behind their peers.
That is why Germany only encourages play-based activities in kindergartens and even explicitly prohibits the teaching of specialized knowledge in their Basic Law.
Similarly, the United States conducted a similar experiment in 1967, tracking 68 children for a period of 20 years.
The results were similar to the German study, but even more concerning. The research found that children who received solely subject-based education were more prone to interpersonal conflicts and emotional disorders in adulthood.
Their crime rates were also three times higher than those who had engaged in play-based activities or received a comprehensive education during the preschool years.
These hidden risks have a far greater impact on a child’s life compared to temporary scores or academic performance.
02Adequate Blank Space Allows Children to Thrive and Grow
It is not only before school age that children require appropriate blank space and gaps, but also after formal schooling.
Recently, I came across a statement that resonated with me: our children might become a generation confined within narrow boundaries. Their living space, time, experiences, and especially choices are limited. Homework is a must, getting into college is a must, finding a job is a must. Although it may seem that life offers many paths to follow, in reality, it is a series of predetermined steps, leaving no room for genuine choices.
In order to outperform their peers and secure a better future, children are forced to push themselves relentlessly, sprinting through life.
They learn elementary school material in kindergarten, middle school material in elementary school, and high school material in middle school. They are constantly studying, but their brains also need rest and leisure.
It is during relaxation that the brain has the opportunity to digest and assimilate the knowledge, making it an integral part of oneself. Many inspirations and creative ideas often emerge when the mind is empty and relaxed. When you fill a child’s time to the brim, they are unable to experience joy and value, and their vitality will eventually diminish.
In a recently surfaced video, an 8-year-old girl is seen lying in bed, her eyes empty and tearful, as she gazes at the ceiling and confides in her father. Overwhelmed by immense pressure, she expresses her desire to leave this world.
“I don’t want to exist in this world anymore. Maybe other children in different families enjoy their existence, but I don’t want to. It’s not just about suffering with you, but also the incredibly high expectations you have for me!”
“This doesn’t feel like a life to me. It feels like an ordeal.”
In a distressing revelation, it has come to light that this is not the first time the girl has expressed her anguish. Previously, she tearfully spoke out about the immense academic pressure she faces:
“…Where am I lacking? You can tell me freely, and I can improve. But I need to have free time. I’ve finished my homework, I’ve taken care of my responsibilities, so is there a problem with me wanting to play?”
A young girl, deprived of rest, playtime, and personal space, finds herself suffocating, even questioning the meaning of life at such a tender age.
“A child who is constantly occupied has no future. Just like a Chinese painting, good education requires ample white space.”
Allowing room for exploration and curiosity in learning can foster a child’s thirst for knowledge and drive for success.
Leaving gaps in thinking processes helps cultivate a child’s imagination and independent thinking abilities.
Creating gaps in time can develop a child’s self-discipline, intrinsic motivation, and ability to find personal fulfillment.
In many cases, outstanding qualities in children do not require intentional cultivation. By leaving room for exploration, children may pleasantly surprise us with their innate talents and abilities.
In this era of fierce competition and constant striving, it is challenging to remain free from anxiety. We all desire our children to excel, to keep up with the relentless pace of this time.
However, I always remember this quote: “A tree cannot grow too fast. In one year, it may serve as firewood; in three to five years, it can become a table or a chair; but it takes ten or even a hundred years to become a supportive pillar.”
Every individual’s growth follows its own rhythm, its unique pace. While external forces may attempt to accelerate this process, there will never be a second chance.
The distortion that may result from such acceleration is unpredictable and concerning.
It is essential for parents to endure solitude, withstand comparisons, resist temptations in order to cultivate and raise a mature child.
Let us find solace and strength in this shared journey.