We have given our 10-year-old son everything we didn’t have in extracurricular opportunities, things, holidays, exposure. But he doesn’t seem to value it, make the best of it, or excel at anything. Similarly, I see other kids in the age group ofaged 12-15, none of whom seem to want to excel at anything. What are we doing wrong?
Many parents today have become obsessed with ensuring their sons and daughters excel at everything they do. This is committing a serious parenting mistake, and fails to prepare kids emotionally and mentally for the adult world. Ironic, because you may think that by putting out good money and ferrying them to different coaching sessions and camps, you are preparing them for competition and teaching them lessons in application.
But by parents focusing fretfully on giving children everything so that they can ‘excel’, what we are increasingly seeing is superficially well-developed children who are very often sad, lonely, confused and lack self-confidence because they haven’t fulfilled parental expectations. Some of them may even be depressed, while showing no outer signs that the treadmill you’ve put them on is just not working for them.
So, while you may think you’re giving your child a head start, he/she will actually be held back by self-doubt and fear of trying anything—for fear of not excelling. It’s hard for children to even dare to dream if you set them a goal (your goal) before they even start. You may not spell it out, but children pick up on the fact that their parents are desperate for them to ‘excel’. And some parents go right ahead and say, “I paid an arm and a leg for that creativity camp and what do you have to show for it?”
Step back a little. It’s great for kids to get all the exposure. But you need to have a little faith that what you are doing may not give you quick and decisive ‘results’. But it is definitely not ‘wasted’—it all goes into the making of a child. That piano class may not lead her to become a performer, but it will get her to listen to music with a more evolved ear and enjoy it better. Maybe not now, but later in life, and for keeps. That will not go away. However, it definitely will be lost if the piano class becomes an area of stress because of your expectations. Similarly with tennis, football, or any other activity.
Parents also need to ask how many of the things that you’re hoping your kids excel in are actually what you wanted while growing up? Equally, how many of the fears you express on his behalf are actually your own anxieties? Sift through these thoughts and see your child as an emerging, forming individual, who cannot be constantly honed to perfection.
Try not to ‘extract’ something from every experience. For instance, if you take him on a bird-watching trip, simply enjoy the trip. When you’re back home, talk with genuine enthusiasm about what you saw, without getting into ‘revise-the-lesson mode’. Eleven-year-old Dhruv, for instance, complained after a stay at a rural farm: “It was fun, but please don’t ask me to repeat the names of the birds and crops we saw.”
What you provide your kids simply has to be in your role as an enabler, not a puppeteer. This is a change in perception you need to put in place, so your children aren’t dodging your plans. The important thing is for your kids to thoroughly enjoy what they do. A sense of enjoyment and participation will feed their minds and souls better than the demand for excelling.
Are we then supposed to have no expectations of our kids? As Trupti Sheth (now older and wiser) puts it, “We should have hopes, not expectations.” The difference is subtle, but real. Expectations tend quite quickly to spill over into demands and disappointments. Hopes are more open-ended and accepting.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org