An American psychologist and educator.
Psychologist and educator David Elkind was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Peter and Bessie Nelson Elkind. He and his family moved to California when he was an adolescent. He received the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1952, and his doctorate (Ph.D.) from UCLA in 1955. He also received an honorary doctorate in science from Rhode Island College in 1987.
Elkind's father operated machinery in a factory that built parts for the automotive industry. Elkind remembered his father complaining about how the engineers who designed the parts did not understand the machinery his father was working with and thus sometimes designed things the machines could not create. This memory stuck with Elkind so that he always tried to consider the relationship between theory and practice and how theory could and would be applied.
Piaget, who originally trained as a biologist, studied and observed children for over 50 years. He sought to understand how children formed knowledge of the world, and his theories of cognitive development have been influential in psychology. Much of Elkind's work can be seen as an attempt to duplicate, build upon, and more fully explore Piaget's theories and research. Elkind's research focused on cognitive, perceptual, and social development in children and adolescents, as well as the causes and effects of stress on children, adolescents, and families. Throughout all of his work, Elkind tried to apply theory and research to real life arenas, such as psychotherapy, parenting, and education. He also used real life experiences to shape his theory and research.
One of Elkind's well-known contributions to psychology is his work on adolescent psychology in which he expands on Piaget's description of adolescent egocentrism (difficulty in distinguishing between the mental occupations of the self and those of other people). Elkind looked at how this egocentrism affects adolescent thought, behavior, and emotion.
According to Piagetian theory, the abilities to separate oneself from one's own thoughts and analyze them, as well as conceptualizing others’ thoughts is developed in early adolescence. Elkind describes how young adolescents, because they are undergoing major physiological changes, are preoccupied with themselves. The egocentrism of adolescents lies in their belief that others are as preoccupied with their appearance and behavior as they are. As a consequence, adolescents anticipate other people's responses and thoughts about themselves, and are, in a way, constantly creating or reacting to an imaginary audience.
According to Elkind, this tendency probably plays a role in the self-consciousness so common in early adolescence, as well as other experiences in this period of life. Elkind also introduced the idea of the personal fable, in which adolescents construct a story about themselves, a version of their life stressing the uniqueness of their feelings and experiences. Indeed, these ideas of personal uniqueness are also seen in a common conviction that the adolescent will not die. Elkind stressed how he found these concepts useful in understanding and treating troubled adolescents. Elkind believes the egocentrism of early adolescence usually lessens by the age of 15 or 16 as cognitive development proceeds.
In subsequent work, Elkind turned his attention to educational methods and how certain changes in society and the family affect children, adolescents, and the family unit. Another aspect of Elkind's work was his focus on learning and healthy development. He believed that children need many and varied experiences to develop in a healthy way and that this is also necessary for children to truly learn about and understand the world. Elkind thought parents who push their infants and children to learn at earlier and earlier ages do not allow children time to have the rich experiences necessary to absorb and learn in a deep and meaningful way.
Elkind was a well-respected speaker and author. He wrote more than 450 book chapters and articles and more than 18 books, including several stories for children. His books include Reinventing Childhood (1998), All Grown Up and No Place to Go (1998), and Ties That Stress: The New Family Imbalance (1994).
In line with his efforts to apply research findings to practical problems, Elkind tried to communicate to the public how his research relates to education and child rearing through writing articles for popular publications such as the magazine Good Housekeeping. In addition, he appeared on numerous televisions shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, and The CBS Morning News. He was member of the editorial board for a number of prestigious scientific journals, including the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Education Digest, Journal of Science and Education, and Montessori Life. He also co-hosted the Lifetime television series Kids These Days, during its run between 1996 and 1998.
Among his professional positions, from 1966 to 1978 Elkind served as professor and director of graduate training in developmental psychology at the Department of Psychology at the University of Rochester, in Rochester, New York. He also served as president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. He held various roles at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, which he joined in 1978. Beginning in 2006, Elkind held the title of professor emeritus at Tufts University. He had three grown sons and lived in Massachusetts with his wife, Debra, where he enjoyed making pottery and sailing.
Elkind, David. Giants in the Nursery: A Biographical History of Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Saint Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2015.
Elkind, David. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007.
Elkind, David. Parenting on the Go: Birth to Six, A to Z. Boston: Da Capo Lifelong, 2014.
Elkind, David. Ties that Stress: The New Family Imbalance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.
Elkind, David. “Knowing Is “Not” Understanding: Fallacies and Risks of Early Academic Instruction.” Young Children 67, no.1 (2012): 84–87.
Galanaki, Evangelia P. “The Imaginary Audience and the Personal Fable: A Test of Elkind's Theory of Adolescent Egocentrism.” Psychology 3, no. 6 (2012): 457–66.
Rai, Roshan, et al. “Adolescent Egocentrism and the Illusion of Transparency: Are Adolescents as Egocentric as We Might Think?” Current Psychology (December 11, 2014): 1–15.
Wertlieb, Donald. “SRCD Oral History Interview: David Elkind.” http://www.srcd.org/sites/default/files/documents/elkind_david_interview_0.pdf (accessed July 24, 2015).