Too Much in the World

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Illustration by Joshua Seong, Verywell

A few days ago, I read an article that I cannot seem to find now – I meant to bookmark it so I could go back to it but my Adult ADHD overcame my OCD and I didn’t do it, so if I plagiarize, it is purely unintentional. The article made such a powerful point about how we got where we are today, it really resonated with me. After spending the past couple of days talking with my wife, who retired after 34 years of teaching in public and charter schools and another FB exchange where I commented to a friend that our kids are now too much in the world at too early an age, I thought I would offer some commentary.

This has been a running conversation at my house with my wife and my kiddies (34, 31 and 28) ever since the Democrats proposed lowering the voting age to 16.

In child psychology, there is something called the “age of reason” – not an epoch or era, mind you – it is the age at which children are capable of actual reason – the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. Before that point, children are raw nerves, a bundle of emotions that they don’t understand and simply can’t really process. It’s pretty much a stimulus /response thing: I’m hungry – feed me, I pooped -clean me, I’m hot/cold – fix it.

They don’t know why and don’t care, it’s just a biological imperative and it needs to be done RIGHT NOW!.

That age of reason, according to the experts (what would we do without experts?) is around 7 years-old, plus or minus a year. The age of seven has been considered the age where common sense and maturity start to kick in, for centuries. In Medieval times, court apprenticeships began at age seven. Under English Common Law, children under seven weren’t considered responsible for their crimes. Turning seven can also be symbolic within a child’s religious upbringing, as it’s the age around when the Catholic Church offers first Communion.

From roughly 6 to 12, give or take a year or two either way, the mind of a child enters a period where they are capable of concrete thinking – combining (addition), separating (subtraction, division), order (alphabetize and sort) and transform objects and actions (change things, such 12 eggs + a dozen). This is the age bracket where they most need to start developing a factual basis for the stage coming next.

The next stage from 13 to 18 is called adolescence – it’s when kids and teens in this age group are capable of more complex thinking, i.e. do formal logical operations. This includes the ability to do abstract thinking (thinking about possibilities), reason from known principles (forming own new ideas or questions), consider many points of view (compare or debate ideas or opinions) and to think about thinking (being aware of the act of thought processes).

It seems to me that the most critical ages in this process is that period between the age of reason and the beginning of adolescence because that’s when a foundation of facts should be laid down and the rules of logical thinking should be put in place. To me, that means memorizing facts (math tables), rules (math, basic language structure) and the basics of rules for civics and civil society (basic history).

I can still remember my times tables and being drilled for a few minutes every day until those facts were instinctive. I can still recite the preamble to the Canterbury Tales in the old English. The recall is instant, even today.

As understand it, over the years such repetition, memorization and drilling fell out of favor and more “modern” concepts were introduced – like the dog’s breakfast called “Common Core”. I’m no education expert, but I am married to one and have had three kids go through school about 3 years apart and I can see the difference in my oldest and my youngest – it seems to me that the education establishment has tried to push the cognitive requirements of adolescence down closer to the age of reason when the brains of the kids simply are not ready for that level of cognition.

It’s like expecting someone to rebuild an engine without them even having seen an engine before. Even if you gave them a rollaway tool box stuffed with every tool they need, they wouldn’t know what to do with them.

That’s what I meant about kids being pushed to be too much in the world at too early an age.

We’ve all seen sports parents who think their kid is the next LeBron or MJ and push them beyond the capability of the kid – but it happens with mental development as well – think Tiger Moms. As Dr. Alan Kazdin, research professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University stated, “Our expectations of our children’s psychological abilities, even more than of their physical abilities, are typically much too high. The research shows that we consistently overestimate their self-control, ability to persevere and stay on task, consistency of performance, and social ability.”

Some in society want us to think that 16 is the new 21 but I’m not even convinced that 21 is the old 21. There are some kids capable of enough reason to vote at 16, but based on the evidence I see, 16 may just as easily be the new 11.

Too much in the world at too early an age.

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