There are a lot of things about our world that concern me. What’s ironic about that, is it’s not really in my nature to worry about things. But since becoming a mom again to our second son, Kai, it’s put this concern into overdrive.
Let them be kids.
Our world is travelling so fast. We think faster, bigger, and more is always better. Is it?
I’ve questioned this a lot recently, every since seeing this TEDx video by Carl Honore in June and reading In Praise of Slow and currently, Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. I’m starting to think that we have it all wrong. I’m starting to think that we are moving far too fast, expecting far too much, and pushing are kids far too hard. I’m starting to think we need to let our kids be kids again.
I was born in 1969. I grew up in the 70′s and 80′s. Yes, life was different then. But I think you can say that about just about any generation. We would go to the park alone. We would skateboard and roller-skate down huge hills, and yes, there were no helmets back then. We would travel around the neighbourhood and look for adventures. We would stay out all day, coming home only to eat and check in with mom again. We weren’t tracked by cell phones or GPS. My mom went back to work when I was 9, so I was a latch key kid. We didn’t need to check our schedule to see what lesson or sports practice we had to go to next. We weren’t given hours of homework like many of you as parents tell me is happening in schools in our community. We were given this type of freedom that is just not present in our society anymore. We were allowed to be kids. What happened to this? Am I just romanticizing my childhood? Is it just me?
I wish that was true. But it’s not. Reading Under Pressure has really opened my eyes and given clarity to what I’ve been seeing as the chiropractor to so many families, kids and teachers in our community for the past 11 years. I’ve listened to you all. I’ve heard your concerns. I’ve been shocked by the pressure that is placed on kids today. And it’s not just in our community. It’s happening in communities and cultures all around the globe. This need to helicopter parent and control every little piece of your child’s existence in order to create a super-child in order for them to ‘succeed’ in life. What does this look like to me in our community?
Let’s talk sports. Specifically, hockey. Now, I know the discussion is gonna ruffle some feathers, particularly when it comes to hockey in our community. Hockey is king in Alberta. There are many other sports we could talk about that fit in this category, too, but I feel hockey is the most relevant. If you are a hockey parent, take a deep breath, and just be open to what you’re about to read.
I’m all for kids being involved in sports. Outside of the numerous physical benefits of being active, sports are a great way to build self-esteem, leadership, learning to work with other people, and really, is fun for the kids. However, the emphasis is not so much on the fun anymore. Six year olds having 5 AM practice on a Saturday. Tryouts for teams lasting weeks, numerous cuts to see what team they will get into, and parents being completely obsessed over this process. Now, I say all this from the numerous conversations I’ve had with practice members over the years. Parents who either witness some of the negativity that other parents direct towards their kids or their coaches, or those parents that coach and say the biggest challenge is not the kids, but dealing with the parents.
I’ve witnessed the pressure put on the kids in hockey. I see them in my practice every day. I witness the intensity of the sport that is now affecting their health in many ways. Concussions are common place. Kids are stressed. They’re exhausted. They don’t get home until 11:30 at night on a school night after a game or practice Parents have to drive their kids all over to arenas, or out of town games over the weekends in various parts of the province.
Let’s talk about the financial investment, which to me, is absolutely crazy. One practice member explained it this way: We can either choose to renovate our kitchen for $25,000 or put our boys in hockey. They chose hockey.
And this was just a discussion about hockey. The amount of over scheduling that goes on now is commonplace. Even from when our kids are babies. I know, because I felt it, and still feel it. When Tyson was born, I immediately started looking into when I could bring him to music lessons, swimming lesson, gymnastics. The first thing we did was take Tyson to swimming lessons at 5 months. He liked it the first time, but the next 3 times were horrible. He cried. He was overstimulated at busy Fountain Park Pool. It was loud. Ed and I are both big believers in following through with something you started, but we had to listen to what our baby boy was trying to tell us. He was miserable. So we stopped taking him.
The next attempt was gymnastics at 18 months. Again, busy, packed, full of kids. It was fun at first, but Tyson could never sit through the group ‘warm-up’, that was comprised of a few kids his age up to kids that were 7 or 8 years old. Gong show. Tyson would just run off to the foam pit. When we got to the actual lesson part, it was a little bit better. We would take the kids through an obstacle course where they had to climb, jump, slide and crawl through tubes. It was fun. But some of the kids just weren’t ready for it, and would cry. And then I witnessed some parents very aggressively telling their toddler to stop crying, and to do it anyways. This disturbed me. We stopped taking him.
And more recently, sport ball at 2 1/2. We had heard great things from a lot of parents about this, and thought it would be a fun way to introduce him to sports skills. We got an email about what to bring-running shoes for kids, water bottle, and then there was a section about pads and soccer cleats. It stated that it was only for the older kids, not the 2 and 3 year old group that Tyson was in. I remember thinking, oh, that makes sense. Who would buy their toddler, with constantly growing feet, soccer cleats for a simple introduction to sport ball, right? And then we showed up for the first class. I was wrong. One of the kids was in full gear. He was 2. Mom was running drills with him, and it was clear that this wasn’t the first time they had done this. And here’s my boy, independent free spirit, wanting to do nothing with sport ball, and instead wants to run to the playground at the other end of the park. Tears and struggle for three lessons. So we listened to our boy, and stopped taking him to this, too.
Does this teach Tyson that if he doesn’t like something or has struggles he should just quit? I know you may be thinking this right now. And I can understand that view point. But I feel, as his mom, that wasn’t really it. It was too much for him. I needed to let Tyson to just be a kid, on his own time, and not have it be scheduled.
Because when I watch him at the park, learning how to interact with other kids (big learning curve here some days), climbing something new, even though it scares him, chasing dragonflies, sliding down the slide again and again, and just full our running in the grass….I see my child being a child. The research now actually shows that when our kids have this free unstructured play, when they are allowed to stop and look at a ladybug for 20 minutes or figure out how to climb something new, their brain is creating thousands of synapses and connections for learning and understanding. More so than taking them to an hour of Mandarin class each week (because if kids today want to ‘keep up’ with the world, they must learn Chinese). More so than the baby yoga or sign language class. More so than the learning to read DVD program for babies (guilty on this one). They are innately being children, and they are thriving because of it.
So is this all too much? Is this helpful for our kids? Can we not go back to just letting our kids be kids again?
Many communities around the world are starting to change. They are having days each month that are no homework and no sports practice days. They are recognizing that this push to make our children ‘great’, is in fact, not. That they number one reason university students now visit counsellors is anxiety, not a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend as it used to be. Our kids are being so programmed from an early age on what to do and who to be, that they are losing the ability to even think for themselves anymore. In fact, critical thinking, a key element in our world today, is severely lacking in this generation. And this is a problem.
We need to think different. Our kids are stressed out, burned out, exhausted, and the first generation that will not outlive their parents. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 10-19 year olds in Canada, and for Alberta youth under the age of 18 has doubled in the past year. We cannot keep leading our kids in this direction, and expect a different result.
So what can we do as parents? Well, I’m saying no to all this. I’m saying no to hockey. I’m saying no to traditional school, and have decided to homeschool or work with an alternative school for our boys. I’m saying no to being the perfect Pinterest mom on the outside staying up until 1 am to bake cupcakes for the class, who is falling apart on the inside and so exhausted with keeping up with the status quo. I’m deciding to create my own status quo for my children. I live my life this way, so why should parenting be any different? And for my beautiful sons, Tyson and Kai? Well, I’m going to let them be kids.