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The Great Parenting Debates

Kids and Competition: Love of the Game and Fun

There's a very good article on kids and competition in the Oct. 17th Family Circle, also on Parents.com. Cynthia Hanson writes that kids' lives are more competitive these days partly because of TV shows like American Idol, and America's Next Top Model. "We have a whole generation of kids who fear they're going to get voted off," Wendy explains in the article.

Adds author Jane Shure, "There's more edginess, influenced by the winner-take-all mentality in our society." That makes me think of the increasing acceptability of cheating and meanness in our culture, as encouraged by widespread sports doping and TV shows like Survivor.

My favorite section of Hanson's article discusses sports. She offers some interesting statistics: the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 74% of parents have seen a coach yell at a child for making a mistake. Three and a half million young athletes seek medical treatment every year for overuse injuries and overtraining fatigue. Nearly half of high school baseball players surveyed told the Josephson Institute of Ethics that it's ok for a coach to order his pitcher to throw at an opposing hitter.

Finally, Wendy points out a fascinating and very useful irony: "Excelling takes hard work. Kids who play for the love of the game perform better over the long haul than those who play only to beat others."

So, in the midst of all this increasing competition, the outlook for our kids isn't necessarily glum. They don't have to sacrifice doing very well for good sportsmanship, they don't have stop enjoying their sport so that they can win. They don't even have to drop out of sports or music because of the competition. They can avoid stress by concentrating on their own love of the game and enjoying the increased competence they gain by working hard on their skills. And by putting love of the game and skill sharpening first and foremost -- above winning -- they can even excel and win. And that irony gives us parents something positive to ponder on.

Hanson talks about the parent who decides her ten-year-old should play the oboe, because the less commonly played instrument may help her get into college, the Web sites where students (and parents) can track their grades daily, and the proliferation of contests for spelling, history, music, sports -- it goes on and on.
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