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Our four helmeted kids (or four headed monsters)
May 21, 2002 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Our four helmeted kids (or four headed monsters) I recently heard a child psychiatrist say that everything he had learned was wrong - the single most important factor for parents to focus on in raising children was, not spending time with them, not giving them love and affection, not providing discipline and clear rules and responsibilities, not making sure they ate healthy meals with plenty of sleep and exercise, the most important factor was fostering their "Competence". How well do they do the things they do. From this article: "The way we realize our potential is through our activities. By ceaselessly striving to improve at the things we enjoy, we come to define, enlarge, and attain our best selves." Whatever happened to stopping to smell those roses?
posted by Voyageman (25 comments total)

 
Anyone know any good anecdotal stories about homicidal children of child psychologists?
posted by mischief at 1:56 PM on May 21, 2002


I've asked this question myself, Voyageman. My wife and I have decided that we'll let our 5-year-old boy do what he wants to do. We're not going to push him into being "competent" at anything except his schoolwork -- and I mean "competent," not "excellent."

A lot of parents I know push their kids to join a tee-ball league or take gymnastics or dance lessons or what have you. They want their kids to excel at something. It's better to wait for your kid to choose what competencies he wants to develop and then support that desire with attention, time and money.

My son's classmates take tee-ball, judo and piano lessons. They're 5 and 6 years old, and I doubt they really chose these pursuits. My son, on the other hand, spends his time cultivating his imagination -- playing pretend, drawing pictures, telling stories. He'll be an imaginative, insightful, empathic, interesting person, even if he never learns to hit a fastball or play a scale.
posted by Holden at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2002


If I could only instill some consistently well mannered behaviour.
posted by johnny7 at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2002


I have this job in which the need for math skills comes up a lot, and I am not as skilled as I'd like to be. I have to go to co-workers with problems that I can't solve. Other than that, I'm pretty good at what I do.

My daughter is going to get A's in math, and if she needs to talk it over with her therapist in 20 years, why her dad made her spend the time to excel in math, then she'll be able at least balance her check book after paying for the sessions. . . .

Other than that, she chooses the activities (cello, volleyball, track) that she loves and gets a lot of support and little pressure from her parents.
posted by Danf at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2002


My wife and I have decided that we'll let our 5-year-old boy do what he wants to do.

Things he will do: Eat bugs, complain

Things he won't do: Mow the lawn, make you happy


I kid! I kid! As a child subjected to sports that I hated in the name of "character building," I rather share your attitude, Holden. Within reason, of course.
posted by Skot at 2:23 PM on May 21, 2002


ceaselessly striving to excel at the things i enjoy is why i'm in therapy now: because when you're a grown-up you push and push and push and nothing's ever enough.

and this didn't come from my parents. it's just my nature.
posted by sugarfish at 2:23 PM on May 21, 2002


It's better to wait for your kid to choose what competencies he wants to develop and then support that desire with attention, time and money.

Exactly. My Mother did that with all six of her kids. My little brother showed an interest in baseball at a very early age. His life was nothing but school and baseball. I thought that perhaps my Mom was pushing him too hard, but he seemed to enjoy what he was doing. Two days after he graduated high school he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Mom does know best. At least in my experience.
posted by gummi at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2002


All this ignores a few important things: kids are in part a product of environment and in part of genetic makeup. Identical twins separated at 6 months of age, with one raised in China and the other in New York City, will have lots still in common but a lot that is different. And a kid adopted will have genes unconnected to either parent ..
posted by Postroad at 2:30 PM on May 21, 2002


The phenomenon of overscheduled kids with overcompetitive parents is sufficiently well known that it's very surprising to see anyone advocating at all for heaping more work on children.

We get a Republican in office and all of a sudden it's the 80s all over again? Even Wil Wheaton has noticed hyperachiever parents going nutso.

Lay off the kids, people. They're not little employees, they're your offspring.
posted by majick at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2002


I was a multi-helmet kid, and I'm happy about that. I was never pushed to excel, only to try, and I got to try a lot of really cool things. My apologies in advance for sounding so corny, but: along with love, the best thing my parents gave me was opportunity, again and again and again..
posted by swerve at 2:40 PM on May 21, 2002


My daughter is going to get A's in math, and if she needs to talk it over with her therapist in 20 years...

do you think your lack of math skills is really due to not being pushed hard enough? Isn't it possible that you just don't have the sort of mind that excels at math? It may help your daughter in some respects to get good grades in math, but I don't know that it will make it inherently easier for her. If that's the case, why don't you sign up for an adult ed. math class? Push yourself instead of your offspring.

People often seem to do that: whatever they didn't like about their childhood, they do the opposite for their kids, without paying attention to what the kids want or tend towards. Whether or not to push your kids is a decision that I think has to be made individually: some kids will thrive when some pressure / motivation / significance / attention is focused on their pursuits; others will be overwhelmed and stressed out. Hey, kinda like grown-ups...
posted by mdn at 2:46 PM on May 21, 2002


My daughter is going to get A's in math, and if she needs to talk it over with her therapist in 20 years...

do you think your lack of math skills is really due to not being pushed hard enough? Isn't it possible that you just don't have the sort of mind that excels at math?


I used to think that "I am not the math type, I have other compensating talents" but as I get older, I see proof indicating that the saying "Math is Power" is true, in this world. And Miranda, your point is well taken, improving MY math skills and not laying this on my daughter, but it seems I'm just too damned busy working and parenting to fit it in. . .
posted by Danf at 3:01 PM on May 21, 2002


Working and parenting, with parenting being so very very difficult: "...An inflated sense of self-esteem can actually cause, rather than mitigate, aggressive and violent behavior - and, it can be inferred, a host of other interpersonal problems as well...." These so-called experts can drive one nuts. Must be best to trust one's instincts, do what one feels is right, close one's eyes and hope for the best.
posted by Voyageman at 3:15 PM on May 21, 2002


mdn says: whatever they didn't like about their childhood, they do the opposite for their kids

Darn tootin.

I didn't like growing up a hand's breadth from abject poverty, and I go out of my way to be sure that my kids don't have to experience things like birthdays without gifts, illness without medical attention, and the deafening silence of neglect while adults go off to scrabble for one more month's rent. Just the same, I don't want my kids growing up in utter terror that one of their parents will finally beat them within an inch of life. Does that mean I overcompensate with lavish gifts, needless expenditures, material and monetary greed, and a lack of serious discipline? Nope. I just want the kids to grow up more or less comfortable, not spoiled and catered-to.

See, that's the wonderful thing about some humans: they can have negative experiences, learn from them, and pass some of that learning to the offspring. Parents reacting to their own childhood woes is one method by which that takes place.
posted by majick at 3:46 PM on May 21, 2002


Danf: My daughter is going to get A's in math, and if she needs to talk it over with her therapist in 20 years, why her dad made her spend the time to excel in math, then she'll be able at least balance her check book after paying for the sessions. . . .

When I showed difficulty and lack of interest in math, my father put me through many hours of flashcard sessions, unofficial math summerschool, etc. I can say this much; my work has nothing to do with math, and I can't balance my checkbook for shit. Due I suppose in part to my father's math-motivating at a young age, I did take all the way through college calculus I, but it irritated me, ate away a lot of time and energy I wish I had back, and in general was a waste of time. I don't have the multiplication table memorized; I've blissfully forgotten how to graph an equation into a parabola, and I'm a happier person for it.
posted by bingo at 4:18 PM on May 21, 2002


Jeez, I can't keep up... first it was "attachment parenting", and now it's "competency"... a new theory every year that feeds on the anxieties of already overstretched parents...

I can say this though, my parents pushed me to realize my "potential" in many subtle and unsubtle ways, and, being the stubborn and perverse personality that I was at that point, I dug my heels in and refused to do anything except read science fiction/fantasy novels. Be careful what you sow, parents, or you may well reap a sullen 14 year old with a reasonably high IQ, university level reading skills, a flair for writing, and C minuses in every subject (except that ones that she's flat-out failing). I've let my son set the pace for whatever interests he has outside school. Of course he is now more interested in Magic and Everquest than math, but oh well; there's no rush, is there? Right?
posted by jokeefe at 4:30 PM on May 21, 2002


Actually, I can't resist adding that yes, when kids develop competency in things that they enjoy, then certainly a sense of self esteem will follow; the only problem is that there are certain competencies that are more highly valued than others. Competency in sports, science, and particularly math is high status; but being completely conversant with the entire body of published work by Clark Ashton Smith and HP Lovecraft by the age of 13, for some inexplicable reason, is not. (I know, I can't figure it out either.) My son, despite his exhaustive knowledge of Pokeman stats (he's moved on to an exhaustive knowledge of Magic cards since then) gets no general societal respect--let alone the prospect of paid employment. My point being that we value the activities that kids do which may, at some point, bring them status or income. We may not value the things that kids themselves are happy gaining competence in.
posted by jokeefe at 4:39 PM on May 21, 2002


See, that's the wonderful thing about some humans: they can have negative experiences, learn from them, and pass some of that learning to the offspring.

oh, of course you should take what you learned and apply it to your kid's life, etc - all I meant is that some parents oversimplify and fail to look at what it is that their kids want - like say, a person grows up poor and is embarassed he doesn't have nice clothes, so when he has a kid he works overtime to make sure he can buy his kid nice clothes and in the process fails to spend time with his child, who has all the material possessions but feels disconnected. Or how about a parent who wished she had pushed herself as a dancer but gave up on it so instead pushes her daughter to dance, when the daughter really wants to be a scientist.

My point was pretty simple: sure, learn from your own experience, but more important, learn from interaction and communication with your child. Your child is a separate person from you and may want different things.
posted by mdn at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2002


I know lots of different people whose parents pushed them and taught them how to excel &c. (I fall into this category), and lots of others whose parents were laid back and let them do "what they felt" and emphasized internal awareness over external achievement.

And the funny thing is, as we turn 30 most of us are dealing with (broadly) the same problems and coping with (broadly) the same sets of angst (this sampling is of my friends and acquaintances, after all), and the main difference I see between the two groups is that the acheivers have the money to be angst-ridden in relative comfort.
posted by hob at 8:11 PM on May 21, 2002


It's better to wait for your kid to choose what competencies he wants to develop...

It is best to help your kid discover what he enjoys, and this may sometimes require some commitment to "get over the hump."

I've three children that I'm good friends with. Their mother has put them into nordic skiing lessons ("Jackrabbits") for the past three years. It's a helluva lot of work for those kids. Two of them absolutely love it ... yet they'd never have chosen the sport on their own. And it took a full year of skiing to really get the hang of it. (The third enjoys it when he's doing it, but has a terrible inability to get off his ass to do the things he enjoys. And that at age nine... sigh.)

Anyway, point is: most of the things most people, children included, choose to do are the things that are easiest, not necessarily the things that are best.

For example, I really need to scrub out some cancer on my car, and prep it for painting. And when I'm actually doing the work, it's sort of enjoyable, in an odd, handyman, fulfilling-my-role sort of way. But here I am, typing on Metafilter, 'cause it's easy. Not particularly productive, but easy.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 PM on May 21, 2002


Meritocracy?
posted by Opus Dark at 10:40 PM on May 21, 2002


Oh wait, I thought you said Mediocrity.
posted by password at 10:56 PM on May 21, 2002


...and the main difference I see between the two groups is that the acheivers have the money to be angst-ridden in relative comfort.

I dunno. I grew up in more than relative comfort, and now I'm poor, and at least I know that, while I want more money, it's not going to solve any of my real problems.
posted by bingo at 11:17 PM on May 21, 2002


"What is good? Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.

What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness.

What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that resistance is overcome."

Nietzsche (shortly before going mad)
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 12:39 AM on May 22, 2002


Jeez, I can't keep up... first it was "attachment parenting", and now it's "competency"... a new theory every year that feeds on the anxieties of already overstretched parents...

As an attachment parent, I gotta chime in that there is nothing about "competency" theory that would run counter to attachment parenting, which is slightly more than a "theory."

That said, for the first time ever, I have to agree with five fresh fish - It is best to help your kid discover what he enjoys, and this may sometimes require some commitment to "get over the hump." My eldest kids are all involved in something; soccer, dance, swimming, and our soon-to-be five year olds will start Kindertastics (tumbling for littles) this summer. The dialog is typically this: "I wanna play X." "We'll sign you up, but you know the rule. What's the rule?" "Half the season."

We only sign them up if they're willing to commit to half the season or prescribed number of classes before making any decisions about quitting. Sometimes they don't want to stick to it, but so far, when held to the commitment, they've ended up enjoying their choices and wanting another season/session. If this teaches them nothing more than to make decisions only after gathering enough information or experience to make it an informed decision, then I'll feel that it was a successful practice.
posted by Dreama at 12:43 AM on May 22, 2002


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