Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The SuperBaby Competition

I just read John Rosemond's column today in the News & Observer. I would like to preface the following comments by stating that I generally like Rosemond's point of view, though sometimes he can also be too extreme in his opinions and advice. For those of you not familiar with him, he advocates old-fashioned child-rearing and laments the scores of parents today who are apt to believe there is an underlying psychological reason for all of the crazy things their kids do, rather than just realizing that kids are not adults and as such, they can be, from time to time, unreasonable.

Anyway, his column today was in response to a mother asking his opinion on all of the activities now available for children as young as one year. If you're a parent, you know exactly what she's referring to - gymnastics, mommy and me classes, ballet, music, sports, etc., etc., etc. The mother wanted to know if these activities really contributed anything worthwhile to the child's well-being or whether they were a waste of time and money.

Rosemond's take is that these activities do not provide any definitive advantage to the child. He states that they more often serve to create some sort of social status among those parents who participate and those who do not, that mothers don't need one more pressure-inducing thing to make them feel inadequate as a parent, and that the only real benefit was the social connections created among the participating parents.

I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I'd like to add my own two cents here and say that I believe all of these kinder-activities are nothing more than a whole bunch of companies jumping on the superbaby bandwagon because there's clearly money to be made.

I happen to live in an up-and-coming area (Raleigh / Wake Forest / RTP / Durham) where there are a lot of highly educated people who make a decent salary, many who have relocated from New York, Boston, and other such areas. Competition around here is fierce among parents trying to get their two, three, and four-year-old children into seasonal activities and classes. Everyone thinks their kid is gifted, everyone I know has their child involved in at least one activity. Montessori-type educational facilities, at $7000 per year and up, which stress academic excellence starting at three-years of age, abound, too.

This at the same time that the American Academy of Pediatrics is advocating more free play-time for children who are increasingly becoming overscheduled and overstressed.

And Rosemond is right about the pressure put on those of us who choose not to enroll our kids in these activities. It took a lot of soul searching and advice-seeking from friends, family and our pediatrician, as to why we should enroll our three-year-old in preschool. We finally chose a two-day-a-week program, mainly for the social interaction it would provide. But we have no intention of going any further and it's very hard to listen to other moms at school chat about the spring, summer, fall and winter schedules of their children and all that they are involved in, without feeling a wee bit of doubt. You can't listen to it all without worrying, albeit briefly, that you're denying your children a future advantage because you don't have them enrolled in a team sport or activity of some sort.

I always snap myself back to reality, though. For one thing, these programs aren't cheap and though I refuse to let money dictate my kids' success, I also think it's wise to pick and choose carefully when deciding what they should be involved in, particularly when there's such a significant price tag involved. Second, I personally believe very strongly that kids ARE overscheduled these days.

Here in Wake County, there's already a huge push for mandatory conversion to year-round schools within the public school system to accommodate the rapidly growing number of students coming into the system each year, and I'm not happy about the prospect at all. As it stands, unless we scrape the cash together to send the girls to private school, we're slated to be in year-round. And I'm willing to try to scrape that cash together because I have a philosophical dislike of the year-round calendar (a fuller argument in favor of traditional calendar schools for another post). So not only are our kids already being pushed to an adult-like schedule in their school year, parents are heaping even more on their little shoulders by enrolling them in every extracurricular activity they can find.

I wonder, did anyone ask the kids what they think of all of this? Further, I wonder why parents feel the need to push their kids into this overly demanding schedule? I believe that somewhere over the past ten or fifteen years, parents have forgotten altogether the distinction between an adult and a child. Somewhere, they've forgotten that a kid doesn't need to have every moment of their lives accounted for. Somewhere, they've forgotten what it was like to be a kid themselves.

As a result, we have this situation where parents are peer-pressured into this crazy mess, where they can't even think independently for themselves anymore in terms of what's appropriate for their child, because they're so inundated with suggestions, advice, news from every angle, and a bunch of other parents who never even stop long enough on their way to the next activity registration to take a breath, look around, and think about why they're doing what they're doing.

I for one will continue to trudge along and hold my ground. I will enroll my kids in swim classes, because it's a safety issue in terms of having a child who's comfortable in the water. But I won't be pushing them to go on to the next level and the next and the next. I won't be enrolling them in a travel league of any kind for any sport at any age. I may let them join Girl Scouts if they find it fun, but you won't find me searching Carolina Parent for a list of upcoming activities and scribbling in the registration deadlines in my planner, or setting up a tent outside the YMCA to enroll them in an activity that fills up that quickly.

I hope I'm doing the right thing. Really, I know I am, and that's enough for me.

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