Extracirricular Insanity

>    A 10-year-old Chinese girl’s feet and hands were bound and she was put into a lake in China for three hours and forced to swim “like a dolphin” to stay afloat. Oh, I’m sorry, she wasn’t forced. Her father, a Chinese swimming coach, said she insisted he do that to help her “train for her goal of swimming the English Channel.” He didn’t risk her life at all, the father continued, because “he swam behind her” the entire time.
Right. Aren’t all 10-year-olds driven by a compulsion for competition by risking their safety and/or their life to break a world’s record?
    It was only 4 years ago that our daughter was 10. I remember it vividly and death defying acts (other then an occasional ride on the “Wolf” at Great Adventure) were not a high priority for she and her friends. So what’s up?
    While the news story from China appalled many worldwide, it struck a way too familiar note to me. We live in an affluent, suburban, New Jersey community and these kids are driven to not only excel in academics, but also to take every possible extracurricular activity they can fit into their day so that they can “compete” for that treasured admission’s spot at the future University of their choice. They are driven to each of these activities by their parents who, I believe, are literally the driving force behind all this drive to succeed.
    Left to their own devices, kids don’t think about college at ages 8, 9, or 10. And when they do, it’s because they’re hearing it at home. Sure, there’s the occasional Mozart or Michaelangelo or Tara Lapinski…who are born with an internal passion to pursue a particular talent or skill. But they’re the exception not the norm. The children of today (and it’s not confined to the U.S. but endemic in all technologically advanced countries) are being stressed to the breaking point to compete, achieve and excel. Their sense of worth is not being derived from Who They Are but rather from What They Do and How Successfully They Can Drown Out The Competition.
    Like the swimming coach father in China who does not see the connection between his own passion and how he has driven his daughter to pursue it, I have personal experience with this one. 
    Parents who think their unfulfilled dreams and internal fears don’t influence their children…listen up.
    Both my parents were children during the Depression when fear of economic survival was the order of the day. Later in life, and shortly after my birth, my father came home from work one day and told my mother that he had quit his well-paying job because he was working 7 days a week, day and night, and he didn’t want to spend his life doing that. She responded with anxiety asking him, “How are we going to survive? We have two little children (I had an older sister). How could you do this?”   
    My father rallied and went on in life to become a successful, self-made millionaire, having never gone beyond high school for financial reasons. All I ever heard him say was that if he could have he would have been a lawyer. It was he life-long regret. At age 9, I wrote an essay in school that started out “When I grow up of course I want to be a wife and mother, but first I want to be a lawyer.” Age 9!
    So here’s the shocker. I grew up to become a lawyer and have an irrational fear of lack even though I’m an artist at heart and always had more than I needed  to survive. Yes, I had totally internalized both his regret and her fear.
    Now, let’s take parents who are less subtle than mine. Let’s take the one’s who are actively pushing their children to compete and succeed and grow up way too fast…or the the ones who are throwing them in lakes with hands and feet tied to sharpen their survival skills. What effect are they having on their children. And to what end?
    There’s and old saying, “Boys will be boys.”  How about “Kids will be kids.” If you’ve got the occasional Mozart, by all means allow that genius to pursue his or her passion. But if you’ve got your pretty standard issue kid, let her grow up at the rate Nature intended, get out of her way, and let her bloom and flower in her own time, not yours.
    And if you’ve always wanted to swim the English Channel or go to Harvard…you go for it.

Did you like this? Share it:

Comments are closed.