Hot Housing Can Wilt the Most Promising Children

Retired head teacher Hermione Gerry warns parents against pushing their protege

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Hermione Gerry

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There has been a recent spate of articles in the press with titles such as “Pushy Parents are told to slow down and let their children thrive”. The substance of these articles alerted parents and teachers for the need to “slow down and even to embrace idleness” –(what a thought!) in order that their children are able to develop naturally and healthily, thus preventing the risk of their becoming de-motivated or “very anxious when confronted by new difficulties”

For many years now as the retired Head Mistress of a successful independent London School, I have been preaching the same, or a very similar message, and thanks to my many years of experience working with children, can support the ‘anti-hot-house’ brigade, wholeheartedly.

Childhood is a very precious and irreplaceable time in a person’s life. The young child is, given the right environment, a curious and avid learner who, assuming there are no underlying health problems, will, with love, care, attention, encouragement, and a rich environment, learn to love, speak, think, question, read, become numerate, appreciate the World... the list is endless, and, above all, grow up to be able to take their place as a valuable and contributing member of society. Plainly everyone is different and will re-act in different ways to stress and pressure. However, from my wealth of experience, I can confidently say that for the majority of children an over-pressured, which could as far as the child is concerned appear ‘harsh’, especially in their early years, will lead to demoralised teenagers and adults who will NOT be able to achieve that elusive concept, ‘potential’. The chances of developing mental health problems, especially depression, are high and almost, if not totally irreversible. This is because, in my opinion, the memories laid down in the immature brain are permanent even if the individual concerned may be unaware of them. Furthermore, memories laid down in, and thus associated with, an atmosphere of fear can result in phobias, which are even harder to overcome. I would claim that one of the most damaging things a parent, carer, teacher or other adult can do to a child is to destroy their confidence and belief in themselves. This will deny them the ability to stand up for themselves against the bullies they will almost inevitably meet throughout their lives. Much can be said about this although space requirements preclude it here.

It is a platitude to say that today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, however this is of course the case and the future for our Country. If for nothing else, it is of the utmost importance that we do not, even with the best intentions, to destroy our children’s future lives by exerting too much pressure to excel, micro-managed free time and unrealistic expectations, all of which have the potential of making children highly strung and doubt in themselves. When this happens, and they are taught, unintentionally, of course, that they are not capable of making their own decisions, they become very vulnerable to pressures from other people. We probably all know adults like this. Of course there will be the exceptions to the rule, who will ‘kick against the traces’ and do their own thing anyway, possibly ending up as multi- millionaires: but they are the minority and it may come at the expense of a happy family life. Too much pressure at an early age is not a sustainable model for future academic and professional success.

Hermione Gerry
Co-founder Prospect House School

January 14, 2013