Children as growing organisms must learn to deal with key areas of themselves and their worlds - academics, the street, diet and exercise, work, and people.

This post is a response to Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education by Peter Gray.

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 9, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Five Things Children Must Master

As a father of three, ages 21-31, a grandparent, and an observer and supervisor of young people who end up in drug treatment, I reflect on the areas a young human being must master to fully encapsulate life.

School. Kids must learn to be comfortable at - and master the demands of - school.; Compulsory education, despite our own Peter Gray's protestations, seems here to stay. Children who don't make peace with this reality are doomed to many years of unhappiness, boredom, and challenges to their self-esteem. And they may pick up some career ideas and skills while trapped in school corridors.

Street. I am more sympathetic to Professor Gray's suggestions for remedying the loss of children's street play. In the meantime, however, parents have to come to grips with how kids will learn to deal with what they encounter on the street - challenges (yes danger), stray adults and other kids, opportunties for physical expression and adventure, learning about lives of people other than those they know at home. All of this starts on the playground.

Body. If kids can't manage their basic physical selves, they likewise face lifetimes of unhappiness and incapacity. As a society, we do worse at this yearly - despite our preoccupation with school menus, labeling of fast foods, and teaching kids to like vegetables. Failure to learn how to moderate and balance consumption comes back to haunt kids with a vengeance when the enter adolescence (you know - drugs and alcohol).

Work.; Human beings have to learn how to fill their time - and their pockets. They need to develop interests, skills, and masteries that allow them to function in the work world and to make a living, even if they opt out of the usual workaday beauracracies that most must come to grips with. Included in this category are knowing how to get along with others, show up on time, complete tasks, market yourself, save your pennies, et al.

People. As much as maturity involves dealing with life on the street, making a living, staying healthy, it is as much or more about dealing with people - in intimate relationships, families, business organizations, negotiating the demands of this world, and virtually everything else you can name.

There are no short cuts, no cheating, no substitutes, no rote learning, no Cliff's Notes for this learning. It comes through lived experienced. And your child's failure to master these things is at their peril.