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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