Children growing up too fast – experts

NZPA 15 May 2008

Children today are growing up too fast and acting like adults at a very early age, child health experts say. With television and the internet playing an increasing role in their lives, children are often exposed to ideas and issues they cannot comprehend fully. They are coming under influences that were kept away from them in the past , and sometimes their parents are to blame. Parents who want to give the best edge to their kids in a competitive world put a lot of emphasis on excellence, early childhood educator Kimberly Powell said. The effect is to put pressure on children to grow up early in a consumerist society.

“In the process, children are being robbed of their childhoods and innocence,” said Dr Powell, a professor at Massey University in Palmerston North. Younger teens did not have the maturity to deal with ideas that were once first encountered by adolescents.

Dr Powell and other child health experts were worried teenagers were becoming sexually active much earlier than they should, and experimenting with drugs. New Zealand teens are showing the world the way, with the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. Figures for 2006 showed 28.4 births per 1000 girls aged 15-19, up from a 10-year low of 25.6 in 2001. Factors often blamed for the rise of “teen-adults” included television, the internet, absentee and lenient parents, ugly divorces, terminal illnesses, sexual and social abuse and peer pressure. “It is a world-wide trend and parents are often only taking minimal responsibility for proper care of their children,” Dr Powell said. “They easily blame it all on work, financial commitments and contemporary lifestyles.” Parents said they were unable to cope with today’s teen responsibilities and commitments as they had changed so much from previous generations.