Soccer? Dance? Cheerleading? Piano? Baseball?
There is no shortage of activities that well intentioned parents can push kids into these days.
Why do we do it? Fear that if we don’t, our children will lag behind. Behind what? Behind the other kids who are more tightly scheduled. The thread that runs through this whole situation is competition. Unfortunately, competition for both kids and parents.
With the dawn of the 1960s, television invaded our homes and captured our attention. Advertising, whose primary function is to create demand, drives TV. Advertising is very effective at influencing our expectations. Hour after hour, kids and adults are subjected to an endless barrage of the latest products, fashions and services. Over time, we have come to expect, in fact, feel entitled, to have our share of everything that’s available.
To match the successes enjoyed by TV actors, we must have money. And lots of it. One of the miracles of our capitalistic system is that most anyone can improve their economic situation by dedicating him or herself to that goal. The heart of capitalism is competition. Moms and dads are both in the workforce and sometimes struggle with two jobs in order to provide the money to fulfill ever increasing expectations.
If competition is good for adults, it must be good for kids, we think. In order to prepare themselves for living the “good” life, kids are pushed into the ring at an early age.
Good grades, high test scores and superior sports accomplishments will pave the way to the good schools that will insure the high-paying jobs that will fund the expectations. And around and around we go. Faster and faster, with no end in sight.
Missing out on…
There is a downside to all of this scheduling, competition and structure. The drive for success and material gain has left many of us and many families with a spiritual deficit. We’re left with little opportunity for real quality time as a family, and children aren’t able to grow up at their own pace. Push, push, push.
Beyond the materialistic aspects of the situation, another ugly factor rears its ugly head up. Parents use kids for their own glorification. Success in school and on the playing field transfers over to the parent. After all, if my kid is a superstar, I must be a super parent.
Some people have recognized the fallacy of pushing kids too hard and are trying to slow things down a bit. Several new books warn against excessive pushing and parental overinvolvement.
“We need to have a cultural conversation about what we have wrought,” says William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and a co-founder of the group Family Life First. He is also the author of a new book, “Putting Family First,” available this month.
According to Doherty, that cultural conversation begins with a fundamental question: What is a good parent? One who is heavily invested in children’s activities, pressing hard to help them build impressive r