Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Much is Too Much? (Modern Parenting)

A recently popular article in the Atlantic Monthly (entitled "How to send your kids into Therapy")  suggested that this generation of so-called Helicopter Parents and closeted Tiger Moms have given their children too many choices, and have sheltered their children too much from certain formative experiences.  As a result, children who should be happy, content and secure,  feel depressed and unable to cope, like their lives are missing an essential piece.

I read the article and tried to understand the author's approach, and today saw actual proof that she might be onto something:   while changing in the dressing room at the pool, after Raphaela's swim lesson, a group of ten or so teenage girls were complaining about the horror that is their life.  These super-fit girls are part of an elite swim team, they train on a regular basis at our pool, and some of them may even make the Israeli Olympic delegation, high achievers all.  Each of them took turns listing all the lessons and classes their parents forced upon them - music and art, gymnastics and karate, chess, extra languages and sciences, etc - and how much they hated it.  Lucky for them the swimming stuck, right?

I found myself listening to this discussion and feeling more preplexed than ever.  As a parent, I want to expose Raphaela to ideas and activities that will open her mind, affirming experiences that will help her find that niche where she excells.  I do not plan on over-programming her week, but how will she figure things out if she sits at home all afternoon watching television or in front of the computer?  How much is too much?

Perhaps the most important lesson is this, no matter what we do for our kids, no matter how good our intentions, they can find (if they wish)  some area of failure, some way to blame us.  As one of my aunts told me when I was pregnant, "As soon as you accept that 'it is all your fault,' you will have real fun with motherhood."

1 comment:

Abandoning Eden said...

I've read some research on this..in sociology we call this style of parenting "Concerted cultivation" and it's most frequently found among upper/middle class children with college educated parents(my old boss wrote a whole book about it called "Unequal childhoods")

I think some parents today overschedule their kids, especially in the US where the perception is they need to do every extra curricular possible to get into a good college. Kids need unstructured play time, and going from activity to activity to activity to activity can burn them out.

But it isn't an all or nothing situation, and as long as parents aren't pushing kids to do something they hate (which is not the same as not letting them give up right away when something is hard), and you limit the number of activities going on at the same time, you should be fine. I did plenty of extra curriculurs as a kid, but I usually did only 1-3 at the same time (as opposed to some kids today who I see doing more like 4-7 at the same time).