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At the next red light I stopped alongside and could see the occupants and wondered if this was a family in which the girl in the vehicle had ballet lessons on Monday, gymnastics on Tuesday, netball on Wednesday, piano on Thursday, swimming on Friday, netball again on Saturday and horse riding or ski lessons on Sunday. Maybe her brother had a similar schedule and a junk mail delivery round while the youngest, still in a child seat, had a range of play and toddler enhancement groups.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities, especially if they’re age appropriate, but if mother is feeling stretched and probably stressed by this demanding after-school and weekend schedule, how are the children coping?
It’s also likely that many, if not all, of these activities were highly structured — "this is how you do it" sessions run by adults — probably with competitive measures that children are hassled, badgered and, at times, abused into meeting.
Add in homework, the music practice and other family commitments and virtually all time for rest and play has been eliminated and balance in the child’s life has disappeared along with a great chunk of mum’s time.
I’ve seen the subsequent problems in adolescence when an able teenager suddenly tires of being so driven and directed that all motivation and ambition goes out the window. The excessive amount of time and training can wear them down and completely turn them off an activity that they might otherwise have enjoyed for many years.
In trying to find out what they’re good at and hopefully enjoy, there’s a danger that we can put an enormous amount of pressure on our youngsters while not appreciating the toll it can take. Pushing them too hard and not taking a step back to observe the impact of what’s going on can create very anxious youngsters who are afraid of failure and risk-taking.
It can also lead to outright rebellion or an array of psychosomatic difficulties — children not wanting to face the day and feeling unwell when, physically, there’s nothing wrong with them.
Pressuring them to find their talents can be counterproductive. If they have a talent, it will find its own way out.
While I’ve moved a long way from what was probably a tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker and my suppositions about the family in the car, there remains the question: Are our youngsters getting the time they need to play by themselves and with others and to have quiet and rest times?
I’ll talk about that next week.
- Ian Munro