by Alissa Krivashei
Picture this; you are watching a football game of eleven and twelve year old boys. You see a talented, young player who seems to be all over the field making great plays. He scores two touchdowns, but you also see him drop one big pass. Even with all of the great plays that the team accomplishes, in the end, they lose the game. After the game, you see the young star with a man who must be his father.
You can hear the father berating and putting down the boy for the one dropped pass. Not once, did he tell the boy how great he played overall.
In today’s world, we are constantly being reminded that we need to be more and more competitive. Every day the news reports about advancements made in medicine or science; we hear about how profits are increasing at large corporations; we are also inundated with stories of athletes and actors successes in their field.
The pressure of being successful can be stifling. As a society, we have been taught that the only way to succeed is to win, or to be the first one to make discoveries, or to be the leader in technological advances. An example of this occurred duringthe 1960’s, the whole world watched U.S.S.R. and the United States in the historic “Space Race”. In addition to competition, we are asked to carry the burden of more responsibility. As adults, we are required to have confidence and a solid level of self-esteem in order to attain accomplishment. For adults, our upbringing has helped to define how we handle both competition and responsibility. From our youth through adulthood, we have learned from activities how to handle the ups and downs of successes and failures. We have persevered through competitive challenges and are confident in the knowledge that we can handle anything that comes our way. Instilling these qualities in our children is vital to the continued success of our society.
For parents, the challenge is to use what we have learned and pass that knowledge to our children. This lesson seems easy enough, but sometimes the message becomes a little skewed. It is important to keep perspective on what is important; learning how to function as a contributing person in society. Too often parents become rigid in their belief that their child must achieve maximum success.
Within the last twenty to thirty years obsessive parenting has reared its uglyhead. Instead of children receiving the message that they are loved and supported, they sometimes feel that they are being forced or pressured into success. The effect of learning lessons from obsessive parents is sometimes disastrous. The negative impact of overbearing parents on children will affect how they handle all aspects of their adult life including, but not limited to, confidence, self-esteem, competitive nature, relationships and responsibilities.
This negative parental behavior can be witnessed best in today’s youth sportsphenomenon. Most parents exhibit supportive behavior when watching their children play a sport, but as the story at the beginning indicates, there are those who lose sight of what the game or experience is all about. One of the purposes of youth sports is to give children an opportunityto learn important life skills in a protective environment. According to Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D.
…the wrong message can be sent about sports, virtues and values….serious emotional conflicts in children as a result of a parental obsession with sports activities. These include burnout from excessive participation in grade school, a win-at-all-costs mentality accompanied by a selfish attitude, excessive competitiveness, the belief that failure in sports means failure in life, a general sadness and anger over pressures to excel on the field, poor academic performance and the belief that sports are the major source of personal values and confidence. (qtd. in Fitzgibbons, M.D. 2)
Because of this “win-at-all-costs mentality”, children also lack the capacity to accept constructive criticism (Fitzgibbons, M.D. 2). Children are learning that if you offer a critique then they must be failing. This attitude affects so many different attributes. It affects their selfesteem in that they begin to believe that they can never accomplish anything. Remember, children only see two views, right or wrong. They are not mature enough to make the connection that a critique is meant to help them to succeed. Children feel that it is an attack on them personally and cannot see the benefit in it.
There are some benefits to participating in sports. Besides acquiring skills necessary to compete in the sport, children also learn aspects of being a leader, being part of a team and that hard work can pay off (Theokas 303). These qualities can help to shape a child into a functioning member of society. By participating in sports, children can learn that in order to reap the benefits of success, you must earn that success.
This also means accepting responsibility for any mistakes that are made. If coaches and parents allow children the opportunity to discover their passions, strengths and weaknesses, sports can be a positive and enriching experience. However, without addressing the negative attributes sometimes associated with youth sports, one can run the risk of negatively shaping that child for life. In the early 1990’s, a study was conducted by Michigan State University that stated that more than two-thirds of children who take part in organized sports from an early age, stop participating during their teens, primarily because their parents “had turned sports into a joyless, negative experience.” (Cox 233)
This harmful conduct that parents have demonstrated in sports is not only occurring in regards to youth sports; it is also happening in the arts and education. From a very early age, we help our children to experience the world through a protective covering. This covering is accomplished when parents do everything that they can to provide a perfect childhood for their children. Parents bring about this innocently at first, telling their child that the finger-paintingthat they just completed is a masterpiece. Of course, a child deserves to be encouraged to excel,even at finger-painting; however, at some point it is important to assist the child in growth.
Parents mistakenly believe that in order for their child to grow up happy, they must be protected from making mistakes or anything that might upset them. According to Robert Brooks, PhD of Harvard Medical School, “Mistakes are experiences that prepare youngsters for their futures.”
Brooks explains that when parents try to protect children from a mistake, children often feel that they cannot be trusted to try. (Culbreth 146) In order for adults to function properly in society, they must learn what not to do. How can anyone be expected to know how to approach a situation if they don’t have at least some experience in trying something new? Making mistakes is truly the only way to learn how to accept failures and to strive for successes.
Children usually learn how to make mistakes and achieve successes in their classrooms growing up. Classrooms are designed to allow a child to discover through hard work and fun, that they can make errors and learn how things work without the pressures of the outside world. Teachers nowadays have to deal with parents who are concerned not just about the well-being of their child, but are now worried about whether or not their youngster can get into college with the grades they are achieving.
Parents are pushing elementary students to be straight “A” students, because they feel if they start having high grades in grade school, they will be able to maintain this level as they get older. This translates into parents questioning anything and everything that comes home from their child’s teachers. If a child is not getting grades that the parent thinks are appropriate, a parent-teacher conference is set-up. If the parent is not satisfied with the outcome of the conference, they usually progress to the principal and on up the chain of command. What in essence is happening is that the parent is looking for the wrong against their child to be corrected.
A new term has been coined for these types of parents, “helicopter parents.” This is a parent who is involved in every aspect of their adolescent and adult children’s life. The “helicopter parent” halts the natural growth of their children by taking all of the responsibility from the child. This type of parent monitors every facet of their child’s life, from their grades through their work life and their personal life.
“Parents might not realize the damage they’re doing to their kids by fighting their battles it’s not conducive to them becoming independent adults who make their own decisions, accept consequences and revel in their own success.” (Macgruder and Stutsman)
The pressure for a child of any age to succeed is driven by a number of factors. One factor is from our parents, grandparents and maybe even siblings. A successful sibling can lead to a need to outperform them, making the demands sometimes impossible to handle. Another factor is the examples of success that we see in the news, on the television or hear on the radio.
Sports figures who are making over $1 million per year, movie and music stars who are idolized from afar and even multimillionaire CEOs can apply undue pressure on today’s youth. It is difficult for children to be able to distinguish between what is possible and what is merely a stroke of luck. In addition to these reasons, parents are also putting excessive pressure on their children. Occasionally parents are overbearing because they are trying to help their child fulfill a dream that the parent couldn’t achieve. A parent might mistakenly think that they can push theirchild through this dream to reach the desired outcome.
In a guest article published by Stanford’s Philip J. Guo, “All parents have dreams for their children but the overbearing ones really make it obvious that their love is conditional upon the fulfillment of their expectations” (Guo 2). The author (D.P.) argues that Asian families have a tendency to require that their children accomplish all of the goals that they themselves could not. This is mainly caused from the fact that they are actively pursuing the “American Dream”. According to D.P., this is caused from their belief that immigrating to America will help them to realize all of their heart’s desires (Guo 2).
The pressure to succeed is laid on the shoulders of these children. They are required to achieve the lofty status for everyone in their family. Most children and young adults are not prepared to deal with the sustained stress of these goals. Consequently, children and young adults tend to lack confidence and motivation to meet their parents’ ambition. This lack of confidence and motivation can lead to poor grades, inadequate organizational skills, and virtually no participation in leadership roles.
I believe that this is such an important topic and that if we do not change the way we encourage our children, we will start to witness adults in increasing numbers feigning responsibilities. Younger adults will begin to feel entitled to wealth and fame. They will lack the aptitude to work for something that they feel passionate about, because they will be afraid to fail.
It is my opinion that parents only want the best for their children. The problem is that they get carried away and forget that they have already had their opportunity to play sports, dance or to get great grades. There needs to be an open dialogue between children and parents regarding what the child wants and what their goals are is imperative. High expectations on children lead to children lacking in self-esteem, confidence and ownership for failures. All children should have the opportunity to explore their passion whether it is dance, football or education without the added pressure of a parent requiring perfection. Nowadays, parents seem to lose focus of what is most important; an opportunity for the child to discover their strengths and weaknesses, a chance to channel their passion in the activity of their choosing.
It is so important for children to learn how to win and how to lose and how to have pride in what they have accomplished. Above all, children need to be able to feel safe and to feel that they are supported in everything that they do unconditionally.