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Education Reporter

Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, by Carl Honoré, Harper One, 2008, 291 pages, $24.95

Middle class, Western parents are trying harder than ever to make their children happy and successful, but all of that pressure and attention may be backfiring. Could "hyper-parenting" partly explain why almost two-thirds of American college students showed signs of "elevated narcissism" in 2006, up 30% since 1982?

Under Pressure explores some of the trends that have led us to this point, and the reaction that is brewing in schools and homes worldwide. Carl Honoré interviewed hundreds of families who now enjoy a "less is more" approach to parenting: less pressure, less technology, fewer weekly activities, and less trying to keep kids happy with possessions or permissive parenting.

Honoré also visited dozens of schools that have actually created a more learning-friendly environment by taking children's need for free play into account. While some kindergartens are cutting out recess to gain more desk time, others are realizing that "hothousing" children to make them smarter, better, and more successful is actually harmful.

"The latest research suggests that reaching learning milestones early is no guarantee of future academic stardom," Honor‚ reveals. Children who attended high-pressure, academic preschools had no academic advantage by age eight, and were more anxious and less creative than their peers.

Under Pressure is a truly international book, and comparisons among nations prove helpful here. In Denmark and Finland, children begin formal schooling at ages six and seven. These children repeatedly top the charts on international tests, and they concentrate better than British children, who start school at five. Finland, which almost always tests at #1 worldwide, places little to no emphasis on testing.

Honoré shows how homeschooling, as well as play-based and child-led school philosophies such as Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia, can restore to young children the time and freedom they need in order to play and explore. While a movement in the U.S. calls for longer school hours, Japan cut its hours by a third in 2002, and other Asian nations are also acting to relieve some of the enormous pressure on their students.

Under Pressure is an amazing piece of journalism. It is a valuable tool for parents and educators who want to understand what is distinctive about childhood today, and to fight against the trends that make it less rich and joyful, and less like childhood.

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