Surfing the net on Monday, I ran into this article written by Katie Grimes, a columnist for The Sacramento Union at the time she wrote it. It’s not something we haven’t discussed before here at theMOAT… but I just loved the way she said it. How sad things haven’t changed much in the last five years (dare we admit things might be even worse?). But that’s what we’re here for – equipping vs enabling our kids. Remember, culture doesn’t change people – people change culture. Let’s do our best to quit manipu-finagling and raise independent, responsible culture changers!
Thanks for letting me share this, Katie!
… and thanks for walking the road with me.
When did parenting become America’s most competitive adult sport? Outrageous stories from parents all around Sacramento abound, from parents behaving badly at kids competitive sports events to academic competitiveness. Competitive parenting is out-of-control.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there was a world where children could play at being children. …playing fields for games of soccer, baseball and capture-the-flag; and tight-knit neighborhoods where kids played hide-and-go-seek and red-rover until it was dark… Today, playing fields have become places where adults congregate to see how their children measure up in the early phases of the race to Harvard, and neighborhoods are where competition to keep-up-with-the-Joneses runs deeply.
When we first become parents, it is clear that we live in a culture which repeatedly tells us that we aren’t good mommies and daddies – that we should be doing more for our children. Competitive soccer and football, dance, voice and French lessons, are merely necessary extra “skills” that will get the kid on the fast track for Stanford or Yale, or get him a second look from the “right” elementary school.
As any busybody Supermom will tell you, whether you want to know or not, Baby Einstein brand is the choice of parents who want their children to speak Swahili by the 6th grade and go to Dartmouth. Barbies are for common other people who just want their daughter to have a prom queen smile on her face and go to a junior college. So, why is it that the sales of the Barbie brand are 15 times higher than Baby Einstein? If you let kids choose, it’s Barbie every time!
Today the furor surrounding the education fast track, the “right” school, SAT/ACT testing, and college applications is a frenzied competition… between parents.
My son is getting ready to graduate high school from C.K. McClatchy’s HISP program – four years of Humanities and International Studies (HISP), AP and HP classes all geared to getting accepted to one of California’s U.C. campuses. The McClatchy HISP program unabashedly brags about getting 20 kids each year into U.C. Berkeley (And no, he’s not going to Berkeley). It’s been a whirlwind of twittering parents at soccer and water polo matches, concerned that we signed him up for the S.A.T. preparation course, or worked with him on the U.C. college essay. Other parents could not believe that I was so relaxed about the process. No tutors, no testing prep courses; if he needed any extra help, he sought out the assistance of his teachers – it’s what they are there for. When we finally did sit down to work on the college applications, we did only one together and then he completed all of the others on his own, without my “grading” them first or making him rewrite anything. What better time to ensure that he was prepared to live with the consequences and culmination of his work?
Thirteen years ago when he graduated kindergarten and we were looking for a new school for first grade, I fell prey to the advise from other more experienced parents, of giving him an “advantage” with a local academically accelerated private school. Two hours of French homework every evening should have been my first clue that the school was a little weird. Within only a couple of months he irritated his prim, uptight teacher so much with his squirrelly, 6-year-old boy behavior, we pulled him out of the school. His grades were good but his behavior was not subservient enough. It was the best decision we ever made academically for him. This kid needed to mix it up on the playground, get dirty, burp, play sports and games, fight, and forgo the French lessons.
It’s not just the multitudes of tests, or the preparation courses for tests, or the AP courses designed to get a leg-up on college. I am referring to the Competitive Parenting that takes place, starting before kindergarten. Competitive parents have this false notion that they can and should control all aspects of child rearing from conception to the child’s post-doctoral work. You can see them at the park protectively hovering over their toddlers, and mediating toy disputes for their 6-year-olds. They’re present at the high school, arguing with teachers if their children bring home anything other than A’s. They’re even at college now, running interference with professors, and setting up and decorating their children’s dorm rooms and apartments.
We have all met truly obsessed parents who anxiously apply for “right” pre-school, which will feed into the “right” elementary school, prep school, middle school, high school and of course, the right Ivy league or private college. These people are out-of-touch – with the reality of a kid’s world. And to a lesser extent, don’t discount the obsessed parents who MUST get their kids into UCLA or Berkeley… nothing else is acceptable.
Competitive Parenting involves the constant shuttling of kids from dance and voice lessons to soccer and basketball practice to violin lessons, to French lessons, art history lessons and to school, which seems secondary after all of those lessons. Competitive parents stand around at the various lessons and soccer fields, comparing their perfect children and all of their achievements. By the time these poor, worn out kids get to high school, they are incapable of doing much for themselves.
The competitive parent still wakes the high-school kids in the morning before school – an alarm clock would be so much trouble. Breakfast is eaten in the car, as are many meals. The parent organizes last-evening’s homework and hands it to the kid as he or she stumbles out of the mini-van at the school. After school, the parent is at the soccer/swim/basketball/football/volleyball practice to watch and offer his or her own coaching tips. On the way home, dinner is consumed in the mini-van. Once home, the parent takes over the homework session, demanding a list of homework assignments, and sitting down to “help.”
The competitive parent often does term papers, school projects, presentations, and homework, with the kid adding his or her name to the final version of the project/term paper/presentation. Excited parents proudly exclaim, “We got an “A!” Boy Scout and Girl Scout badges are completed and signed-off by the competitive parent who is also a troop parent volunteer. And since we’ve got the skunk on the table about competitive parents, too many Eagle Scout ranks should be given to the Competitive Parents, who see the rank as a resume building opportunity.
Competitive parents pay $10,000 a year to private tutoring companies. The competitive parent pays additional thousands of dollars to college placement specialists and Admissions Consultants. Some pay to have the college applications completed for their teens. One Sacramento College Placement specialist company offers these services:
· Explore your student’s interests, values and goals.
· Collaboratively, we develop a potential list of colleges and universities that best matches your student’s goals, interests, academic strengths and learning style.
· Assist with curriculum and extracurricular decisions.
· Provide guidance on standardized tests including the SAT, ACT and SAT Subject Test.
· Prepare you for admissions interviews, campus visits, and resume writing.
· Collaborate on essay topic selection and draft review.
· Assist in managing the application process.
· Assist in reviewing financial aid options.
· Provide guidance with final college selection.
It appears that one can pay for nearly any service today. However, I never thought of education as a service industry.
There are handwriting tutors for
children too young to have developed the motor skills necessary for writing, and irresponsible diagnoses of attention deficit disorder in youngsters who are simply disorganized. School curriculums have accelerated with little regard for standard, normal child development. Preschoolers read, fifth graders take S.A.T.’s for admission to summer college programs and high school juniors are told they need three advanced-placement, or college-level, courses for Ivy League consideration. And they are urged to build resume that includes sports, student government, music, volunteer work, summer courses and internships. Children are drowning, up until midnight or insomniacs from the stress.
What happened to playing in the sandbox? Parental obsession is not just limited to stage parents and sports obsessed dads any longer.
Competitive parents are trying to turn every kid into a superstar. It starts out with listening to French while the baby is in the uterus, graduates to expensive private tutoring in Kindergarten and elementary school, and on until a college placement specialist fills out kids’ college applications and writes the essay. Peter N. Stearns, a social historian at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and the author of “Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America sums this condition up: “In our society now, a child’s success in school has become emblematic of your success as a parent,” says Stearns. So if you have a kid who gets into (never mind graduates from) Harvard, that’s as good as a stellar (although long-awaited) performance review.”
Subsidizing our kid’s skills is contrary to our responsibility to raising responsible, independent children. Are parents obsessing over the child’s success because it’s good for the child, or is it good for the parents? Over-anxious parents raise emotionally fragile kids — kids who can’t stand on their own. They don’t know how to make sound decisions and they aren’t equipped to deal with failure and frustration. And today’s students are tomorrow’s employees.