The Overscheduled Child – Is Winning Everything?

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While at the doctor’s office this week, I overheard an older woman discussing the upcoming finale of America’s Got Talent. The woman explained that even though she thought Jackie Evancho, a ten-year-old opera singer and only remaining child contestant, was phenomenal, she didn’t want her to win. “What kind of life would (a show in Vegas) be for her?” I believe The Overscheduled Child would agree as well. Rosenfeld and Wise write, “Many people complain that too many children are being unreasonably pressured today. But parents may find it really difficult to delineate where, exactly, lies the line between being enthused on their children’s behalf and exerting overzealous pressure on them.”

According to The Overscheduled Child, “It is not bad for a parent to have a vision for what they want their children to get from life; we all dream about what the future may hold, and indeed some of our kids will be happy enough to walk that path. “ The problem is that our unrealized dreams often drive our children’s overscheduled childhoods. “At the very time in life when we are coming to terms with the realization that many of our most cherished dreams for ourselves may never come true, children seem to offer us one last round in the ring, one last chance to be a contender.”

But as Rosenfeld and Wise point out, “The pressure we put on our children to succeed doesn’t chase the demons from their lives at all. It propels the poor kids directly into the waiting arms.” This constant quest for accomplishments actually puts in place a vicious cycle of inadequacy – always feeling that they have something to prove. “As we continually move from one challenge to the next, hoping each time for more adulation, we can never sit still long enough to notice how much is right in our lives or to recognize that such perpetual striving comes from an inner neediness that never stops gnawing at us, a demon that demands to be fed.”

But that’s other parents, not you, right? “Somehow it is harder to pin down what pushiness is when we ourselves are the forces behind it. Nor can we always easily determine where encouragement ends and intensity begins, particularly for children who, on their own, aren’t motivated to try new things or do much at all.” The Overscheduled Child suggests you think of it in these terms: “If saying ‘no’ to unreasonable pressures and schedule demands seems too difficult, we parents might need to take a serious look at what our motivations really are. “

Still, is it so wrong to bribe a slow reader with a financial reward if it means they might learn to love reading? Can we really blame the parents who sign their slightly clumsy kid up for soccer in hopes of improving their coordination? And what about the aspiring figure skater? Trading in the “normal” childhood experience would be worth it if she wins an Olympic gold medal, right? If being the operative word in that sentence. If she doesn’t win, would all the sacrifice still be worth it?

“While some people unquestionably thrive on the challenge of working hard to get to the top, a larger percentage likely would find that, in the end, a less pressured life is more meaningful and gratifying…which is why parents need to think hard about what our personal definition of success is. We need to weigh the price of being a ‘winner,’ to determine whether devoting our lives to wearing that label and getting our kids to display it early and prominently, is really worth the cost.”

Ten-year-old Jackie Evancho may not have won America’s Got Talent, but her gracious comments and tearless eyes proved that in many ways she was already a winner. While her year of touring with the show will undoubtedly bring her opportunities her parents may only have dreamed of, I, for one, hope they decide to protect her from the pressures of being a professional performer for a little longer. With a voice like hers, she certainly has more than fifteen minutes of fame coming to her so why not preserve her voice and her childhood, by giving her time to mature, before starting her inevitable singing career. As Rosenfeld and Wise argue, “Accomplishment is but a moment; most of life is spent on the journey.” Wouldn’t it be better to slow down and enjoy the ride?