The Well-Balanced Child
Every parent wants to raise the perfect child: healthy, happy, loved, and respected with high achievements and even higher goals. We want our children to have the things we didn’t have and to achieve their dreams. This is all well and good, unless we become so focused on our desires for our child that we forget what’s inherently best for the child.
The term hyper-parenting describes a dangerous trend in child rearing in middle- and upper-middle–class homes. In hyper-parenting families, parents become overly involved in every detail of their children’s academic, athletic, and social lives. They unnecessarily augment their children’s environment and overschedule them.
In these parents’ heartfelt desire to help their children succeed, they hinder the kids by not allowing them to be, simply, children.
Children today are getting so much more than just basic schooling. Many participate in several of the following extracurricular activities: sports, clubs, music lessons, art lessons, foreign language lessons, necessary tutoring, and internet.
Individually, these activities are valuable, but combined they can leave parents and children frazzled.
Some parents claim that they involve their children in these activities to avoid the risk of boredom.1 What they are forgetting is that boredom is a catalyst for creativity. Boredom can fuel a child’s imagination; while over-scheduling the child doesn’t allow them the opportunity to exercise their innate ability to entertain themselves.
Raising the perfect child has almost become a competitive sport, with the prize being speaking early, qualifying for gifted and talented programs, or earning admission to an elite university. These things, and not a well-balanced and happy child, have become the measure of parental accomplishment.
According to Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, “The competitive parents react to the latest science reported in the media—which professionals know is of dubious validity—by broadcasting Mozart into their infants’ nurseries to stimulate mathematical ability, enrolling toddlers in organized gymnastics programs to fine-tune large motor development, and putting children too young to comprehend the rules in competitive team sports. They insist that kids who are barely awake sit for 7 AM piano lessons and that high-schoolers manicure their resumes to fit profiles elite colleges supposedly are looking for.”2
Many parents may recognize these characteristics in themselves but, despite the fact that they know their children are over-scheduled, many parents will choose to keep up the pace for fear that cutting back may harm their child’s future.
Where is this pressure coming from? Why do parents feel this overwhelming drive to push their children to not only succeed but to excel? There was a time when parents were urged to trust themselves and their instincts. Not so today, when experts imply that each decision made for children will have crucial future implications and, with its tone of urgency and authority, raises parental anxiety to a fever pitch and brings out the worst in everyone.
The pressure also comes from the schools that find themselves at the other end of a pass-the-buck relay race to produce the best and most highly educated children. The schools have to show results for those tax dollars they’ve been receiving and they react to the pressure by placing higher demands on the children, usually under the guise of increased homework that is supposed to enhance future performance. 3
An additional contributing factor is the incorrect belief that child development is absolutely linear. Many parents mistakenly believe that if their child reads early, 15 years down the road they’ll score higher on their verbal SATs. So, parents push their children to achieve milestones early and to develop skills faster than their counterparts, expecting this will help them achieve greater things in the future.
The End Results
We have to wonder how this kind of life is affecting the children. What are the children feeling when faced with an endless parade of activities? Consider what damage this could be doing to a developing self esteem. The subliminal message that kids are getting from this constant scrutiny and hyperactivity is that they are inadequate in their current unpolished state. The children convince themselves that if they were acceptable just as they are, then they wouldn’t need all of this extra enrichment. They begin to feel inadequate and inferior; this results in children spending more time buried in the Gameboy, Nintendo, or latest computer games. Taken to the extreme, these children will sometimes go so far as to drop out of school; feeling that they’ll never measure up anyway, they quit trying.2
It’s clear that possibly hyper-parenting may be a contributing factor to the increased incidence of teenage depressions, substance abuses and other forms of acting out.
It’s time for parents to realize that their child may not be the next prima ballerina, concert violinist, quarterback, infielder, or President of the United States, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t have equally fulfilling lives. What a lot of parents don’t realize is that, even without all of the extra-curricular activities, their children are well on their way to being everything they could hope for and more.
Dr. Claudia Anrig has had a family wellness practice since 1982. She has edited chiropractic pediatric and clinical text and written numerous articles on the topic: Chiropractic Care for Children. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the ICPA.
- A Little Boredom is Healthy by David Elkind, https://enews.tufts.edu/stories/083002BoredomHealthy.htm
- The Over-scheduled Child – Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap by Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. and Nicole Wise (Griffin 2001)
- Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society by William Crain
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #09.
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