Are We Pushing Our Kids Too Hard?

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Here’s a YouTube video of a 6-year-old girl, Annika Vrklan, who is winning awards across California for her skateboarding achievements. In fact, she recently won a Guinness World Record. The training involved to compete at this level is intense because she’s competing in the under 13 category. Is it too much for someone so young? The same question can be asked of young gymnasts, hockey players, pianists, mathematicians, and chess players just to name a few. Are the parents of these kids robbing them of their childhood by pushing them at such an early age? I don’t have any definitive answers to these questions. First of all, I think you have to look carefully at each individual child: are they happy, keeping up with their schoolwork, and maintaining healthy friendships with their peers? Take for example, Annika Vrklan. I know she’s a straight A student who has lots of friends, a great sense of humour and lots of excess energy. Here’s how she describes herself on her Facebook page: "I am a six-year-old girl athlete: skateboarder, snowboarder, surfer, gymnast, soccer player, diver, swimmer, ballet dancer etc. I love to play with Barbies, love my family. I love to compete and learn something new every time I skate/snow/surf/tumble!" She certainly doesn’t sound like a stressed out young girl to me! In fact, I know that Annika's parents are not pushing her. They are actually the first to put limits on the amount of time spent training in order to ensure that Annika keeps a balanced schedule. Annika is just one of those naturally gifted athletes and it would be a crime to hold her back from what she loves! Here’s another prodigy, Kim Ung-Yong. By the age of four he was already able to read in Japanese, Korean, German and English. At his 5th birthday, he solved complicated differential and integral calculus problems. At the age of 7, NASA invited him to America. He finished his university studies, eventually getting a Ph.D. in physics before he was 15. Kim was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ”, with a score of over 210. I could keep listing his accomplishments but I’m sure you’ve got the point! There are literally 1000’s of examples of kids who are clearly gifted and it would be wrong for their parents to hold them back! But there are also examples of the opposite extreme. Obviously not all kids are geniuses or super athletes or talented musicians. Most of us are just average people with average capabilities. And that’s okay! After all, how many rocket scientists do we need in the world? But our parents still want the best for us and want to give us as many opportunities as possible. My parents encouraged me to take piano lessons. At first, I liked them but soon started to hate the weekly lessons and daily practice required. I started finding every excuse not to go. It was years later that we discovered my piano teacher was an alcoholic and that explained her mood swings and verbally abusive manner. Needless to say, my parents agreed to let me stop. I just wasn’t cut out to be a pianist. Where do you draw the line between exposing kids to plenty of different hobbies and sports and just letting kids be kids? Again, I believe you have to really listen to what your kids are saying – both verbally and non-verbally. Do your kids fight you when it’s time for their lessons or soccer nights? Are they the ones reminding you they’ve got a hockey practice at 7:30 am the next day or are you the one dragging them out of bed on a regular basis to attend? Clearly some kids are over-programmed. Add homework to that equation and your kids (and you) are going to feel overwhelmed! Childhood shouldn’t be stressful. Kids will experience plenty of stress when they join the work force as adults. Why should they experience that pressure when they’re young? In summary, I think all parents need to go back to the questions I posed at the beginning of this article: Are your kids happy, keeping up with their school work and maintaining healthy friendships? If not, it’s time to re-evaluate what they’re juggling each week.

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  • I definitely think you’re right. I caught an episode of Wife Swap last night (on CMT I think?) where one of the families was one of those “do it all” families, and their girls were flat worn out. They had a 10 year old that did sports, was in a girl band, took tap, ballet, and jazz among other things, as well as a 7 year old that did gymnastics, dance, and various sports. The dad was big into sports too and often played all day and didn’t work until the evening, which kept him out late at night; they never ate dinner until around 10 and the girls never got to bed until midnight.
    I was watching those poor little girls stumble around the house with huge bags under their eyes on a school morning after a previous full day of school, sports, band practice, and a midnight bedtime & felt horrible for them.
    There are times I wish my parents had pushed me a little harder to stick with stuff when I was little, but sometimes it’s a little excessive. Obviously in the case of a prodigy, it’s different, but as much as we love our children, they’re not all prodigies! My son is still young, but I do plan to encourage him to stick with the commitments he makes (like to sports teams or a band), but his well-being and schooling will always come first!

    Corrianna {SouthernMother} on
  • Karen,

    I’m so glad I followed you over here from BlogFrog this morning. Great post! I know a lot of people who have their young children in multiple activities each week, and I think it’s out of control. These “travel” sports teams are robbing families of quality time at home by dragging them out on the road all the time. Unfortunately, many families see this as the norm nowadays.

    I’d like my kids to try out some sports here and there to help them find out what they might like. Mine need to be talked into doing something like that. Really the opposite end of the spectrum! I’d really like them to get involved in something—I just don’t want to end up being one of those families that passes eachother between a million events.

    Wombat Central on
  • You are absolutely right! The best thing we can give our kids is a happy home and a happy marriage!!!

    Karyn Climans on
  • Excellent article!

    Here’s another twist on this. When is enough is enough for the family? Take a family of 2 children. Both children are involved in 2 extra-curricular activities. Both parents work full time. They come home, prepare a quick meal, or grab take-out. Then Mom dashes off in one direction with a child and Dad dashes off in another direction with a child. Day in, day out.

    When does the family spend time together? When do Mom & Dad spend alone time?

    This can work, of course, but all too often I see parents who are no longer a couple because the focus is on exposing their children to all these activities, with no time left over for each other.

    As with everything, there needs to be a balance.

    Eliza on
  • You make a great point here. I agree with you. Some parents force their children to get involved with everything. There is dance, soccer, music lessons, school, homework, karate, etc. What do your children really enjoy doing? If your child’s grades are slipping maybe he or she is too involved. Parents should ask their kids what they want to do for extra curricular activities instead of forcing them into anything and everything. My oldest is an A student and the only extra curricular activity outside of school that she is involved in is karate. She got her black belt a few years ago and enjoys every minute of karate. I am going to continue putting her in this until she is ready to quit.

    Great article!

    Cascia @ Healthy Moms on

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