Competing Opinions

I’m confused.

It seems hardly a month goes by without a study being released showing how society is putting too much pressure on kids to achieve. Whether it’s sports, music, dancing or just good old-fashioned grades – you name the competition, there are bunches of families spending their yearly vacation travelling across the country so their son or daughter can win it.

I know, this is an extreme example, but there’s a vocal group of objectors crying, “Just let kids be kids!” They talk about the dire consequences of putting too much pressure on children at such and young age, and use phrases like “unstructured play time”, which I think is the scientific way of saying, tip the sofa over and pretend to be a pirate or a cowboy or something.

But wait a minute. There’s another group of experts saying parents and teachers have adopted a win-win attitude that frowns on any child facing the trauma of coming in second, third… Heaven forbid, even fourth! Again, there’s a growing concern that we’re leading kids down a path that leaves them unequipped to the reality that for every winner, there’s a loser too.

Hold on, I’m not done yet. Forget whether children are being pushed too hard or not enough, it doesn’t matter, because there’s another faction claiming children are too busy getting overweight in front of their television or computer for it to matter. According to this group, kids are just junk food chompin’ zombies, too unmotivated to do anything anyway.

So which is it? Are children pushed too hard, not hard enough or does it not even matter because they’re all to obese to care?

The only connection I can gather from these contradictory views is that no matter what, today’s children are doomed. This is a tragic assumption. Did people have a similar view twenty or thirty years ago? Is it just natural to be pessimistic about the potential of near-future generations and what kind of message does this negative outlook give to a child?

As I’ve said before, I’m not a parent yet, so I’m going to reserve any judgment until I have my own experience to draw on. However it’s a question that concerns me and I would love to know what any parents out there might think.

2 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Shane – I’m with you in the puzzlement! Folks will just never be happy with kids, it seems.

    If you haven’t already read it, though, I’d really urge you to read Howard Chudacoff’s book “Children at Play: A History of Play in America.” I recently re-read his first chapter – all about changing social attitudes toward play, and how children always manage in the end to subvert or co-opt adults’ efforts to control or regulate play – and think you might like it. Can post excerpts if you like!

  2. Posted February 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment Daniel, always great to hear what you’ve got to say! I’d love to get hold of that book, do please post any cool excerpts on here.

    I tried to back up the varying opinions with a couple of hastily-found examples, but what I also discovered was the “win at all costs” line was very prevalent in the U.S. but the “everyone’s a winner” approach was a very British thing.

    Both sides of the pond agree on child obesity being a problem though :(

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