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Growing Up Too Fast    by Sylvia Rimm order for
Growing Up Too Fast
by Sylvia Rimm
Order:  USA  Can
Rodale, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Sylvia Rimm, author of See Jane Win and Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, quotes a Girl Scout Research Institute study that speaks of developmental compression and 'kids getting older younger.' In many ways, that phrase summarizes the findings she presents here, but details are significant. Her introduction speaks of what's changed and what hasn't between recent generations of parents and kids. She surveyed over 5,400 middle schoolers in 18 different American states from over 50 schools, asking about 'worries and fears, family relationships, peer relations, role models, interests, activities, and self-confidence' - she quotes sample responses at the beginning of each chapter. What I especially like about the book, as a parent, is that it includes examples of very specific dialogs to have with middle schoolers on topics that range from explaining learning disorders to dating. Rimm emphasizes the importance of communication with kids, of finding time for it, and of actively listening.

She discusses two major concerns regarding developmental compression - the loss of both an important time for learning, and of parental confidence in guiding children. In Growing Up Too Fast, Dr. Rimm explains to parents when they can rely on their own childhood memories for guidance, and when generational differences mean that they should not. She discusses changes in timing of sexual maturity and its causes, including the possibility that media exposure is one culprit. Its result is that 'A child's mind is exploring decisions in an almost-adult body.' Rimm includes an Appendix of books on sexuality to study together with kids, and tells us that no research 'suggests any positive outcome stemming from earlier sexual involvement.' She provides fascinating data on shifting gender stereotypes, and discusses parental responsibility to counter the strong homophobia prevalent in middle school culture.

Under Environments are chapters addressing Drugs, Technology (IM and cell phone use), and exposure to Sex and Violence. She quotes Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman, whose analysis of over two hundred independent studies led them to the telling conclusion that 'the relationship between violence in the media and aggressive behavior can be considered in the same light as the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.' She discusses the impact of offensive Internet pop-ups, pornographic websites, and the risk of Internet sexual solicitation. She provides sensible guidelines for kids' screen time. And she reminds us that parents are de facto role models for their children, as are relatives, teachers, and celebrities. A section on Worries has detailed chapters on Bullying and Terror (with specific tips on helping children during fearful times). Under Pressures are chapters on: Fitting In (popularity is a middle schooler's biggest worry with boys more anxious than girls!); Weight Problems (Rimms offers a 'Six-Step Healthy Rescue Plan'); Achievement and an epidemic of peer-pressured underachievement ('Rimm's Laws' offer good insights).

The final section of the book advises on 'Parenting Tweens' for achievement - neither overempowering them nor doing too much for them. Overall, Sylvia Rimm tells us that 'the basic principles of parenting have remained the same.' She reassures anxious parents, overwhelmed by worries about peer pressure and societal influences, that 'You can make a positive difference for your children', mainly by 'stating your opinions and setting clear limits.' I highly recommend Growing Up Too Fast to parents, grandparents, educators, and anyone working with middle school age kids.

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