Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Competition Makes Us Sick

I've been saying this for a long time and I just saw an article in the Washington Post, Sick of Expectations by Sandra Boodman, which says the same thing. Oh, how I love myself.

Boodman is reviewing a book, The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine.
...Levine says that over-involved parents who pressure their children to be stars -- in school, on athletic fields, among their peers -- have created a generation that is "extremely unhappy, disconnected and passive." Unabashedly materialistic and disinterested in the wider world, they are both bored and "often boring," she writes. A large number suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
I totally buy the pushy parent part -- I've seen plenty of discussions about this on blogs and have addressed the topic in mine. The results on the children are not surprising, actually, they were predictable.

The article continues with excerpts of a Q&A with Levine, who says:

I do think the parental over-involvement and level of anxiety are new. A friend showed me the Yale alumni bulletin and said they used to write about who was appointed to the Cabinet or started a company or became head of a hospital. Now, it's whose kid made the select soccer team.
Someone should tip off Linda Hirshman that she can make a case that those elite women who have let her down to stay home with the kids are actually ruining them, so these women might as well go make lots of money and ostensibly help the women's movement.

In the article, Levine points out that the parents are unhappy and that they spend their time trying to perfect their children. I cannot help but wonder why the parents don't put that time into perfecting themselves and leave the kids alone (did someone turn on Pink Floyd's The Wall? I once wrote on this blog "hey, parents, leave those kids alone" but I think I edited it out. Sometimes I can be extreme.)

From the article:
Kids aren't having the experiences that are mandatory for healthy child development -- and that's a period of time to be left alone, to figure out who you are, to experiment with different things, to fail, and to develop a repertoire of responses to challenge. They have no interior life. It's all about performance -- and performance is not real learning.
Others have said similar things -- I wrote about David Elkind in one of my posts, saying:
his point is not that kids should be sitting around 'playing' all day (the horror!), its that overcompetitive parents may actually be harming their kids when they pressure and overschedule them and don't leave them time to play, think, and dream.
I once read an article about a young boy who was stressed out because everywhere he went, people told him what to do -- at school, at extracurricular activities, even at Sunday school. He was less than a double-digit age and he was stressed because he had no breathing room.

Back to parental unhappiness, Levine goes on to talk about the lack of community support these days.

Now, people wouldn't think of going next door for a cup of coffee or to discuss a personal problem. You have to make a date first. There's nothing like that fluid interchange of support and help that our mothers had.
She's right, to some extent. But you have to be the change you want to see. If you buy into the system that kids need activities galore and must have all moments accounted for, then no one will be around. Even if you buy into the system because you're looking for people because "no one is around." If you want people to be around, you must be around first. Then you deal, or you could play with your kids (I don't, but you could). Personally, I hang out at homeschool park days, and that is the closest I have seen to a fluid interchange of support. You have to make a date and be there, but then you just be.

One thing I enjoyed in this article is when Levine starts to identify a healthy parental attitude, calling it the "involved" parent. Here is an example of the best kind of parent of the three she identifies:

Say the kid comes home and says he has a math test. The involved parent says, "We want you to do well on that test, so you need to study between 7 and 8 after dinner for an hour."
Come on, "We want" is good parenting? How about not imposing your expectations or desires on your kids? How about, "if YOU want to do well on the test"? This example even has the parent controlling WHEN the child studies. So that is what a good parent looks like, a control freak, but less controlling and abusive than the others. Seriously, read about the "intrusive" parent she describes, that's not instrusive, its abusive (I think). At the least, its highly critical.

At the end of her article, Levine asserts,

Kids should never, ever, be paid for grades. Real learning is about effort and improvement, not performance.

A good start for the mainstream, I suppose. When you're ready for it, go see what Alfie Kohn has been saying for years.

3 comments:

Stephanie said...

Come on, "We want" is good parenting? How about not imposing your expectations or desires on your kids? How about, "if YOU want to do well on the test"? This example even has the parent controlling WHEN the child studies.
>>>>

Well...I guess that is an improvement, right? The parent is not actually *doing* the homework. ;o) And they are giving them some time to breath before they have to get started right?

Ah yes, it is hard to read these articles once you have made the "shift" or as you like to say, have drunk the kool-aid.

Anonymous said...

I hate competition. i prefer collaboration. your article is so true. enuf said...

Marjorie said...

Thanks for commenting!