Career & Education

Are we putting too much pressure on our children?

Dr Karla
Hylton

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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We live in an age of perfection. We want the perfect spouse, the perfect house, the perfect career, and perfect children. But we often don't realise that in this quest for perfection we exert pressure on others and potentially damage our relationships with them.

In the case of children, parents, caregivers and educators put immense pressure on them to achieve — to the point where they are often robbed of their childhood. Children now are not being allowed to just be children, which has implications for the development of their social skills and compassion, as parents focus mainly on academic achievement and extracurricular activities.

To be blatantly honest, many children's extra-curricular activities these days are outrageous. They are pressured to perform well in sports, music, dance, and other activities. It has become a plague of sorts. With the frantic level of scheduling that our kids endure, I am not surprised that many are overwhelmed and burn out by age 20.

When parents are overinvested in their child's academic performance and/or extra-curricular activities, the children are less likely to develop their own intrinsic motivation.

The irony is that the parents' motivation is not always noble. In many cases, it's not just about wanting the best for their children, as many claim. Rather, some parents push their kids to satisfy their own egos, while others use their kids to relive their own childhood dreams. Some parents may even base their own self-worth on the success of their children.

Admittedly, it is a competitive world out there, but it's not just academic skills that will make one successful, as life skills are important.

In the super competitive society we've created, where parents are busy and kids are even busier, success is often defined by status, performance and appearance, and these values are transmitted from parent to child. Constant busy-ness is now associated with accomplishments, and even perfection. It's no longer enough to graduate high school with eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects. Many parents feel that their children should have at least 10, and all with grade one. We hold our children to impossible standards; standards which we ourselves didn't have to meet when we were kids. And to what end, one might ask? What exactly will 10 or 12 CSEC subjects offer that eight subjects will not? No wonder many of our kids show signs of depression, anxiety and stress.

The quest for perfection entraps our children and saps them of their courage, creativity and confidence due to the unrelenting demands made by “well-meaning” parents. These childen either feel loved conditionally based on their achievements and success, or they detach to avoid feeling that they are disappointing their parents.

Some harmful effects of undue pressure on kids

1. Increased rate of mental illness

2. Risk of suicide

3. Low self-esteem

4. Sleep deprivation

5. Increased likelihood of cheating

6. Lack of participation in class or activity

7. Approval addiction

8. Substance abuse

Children are not machines and so need time to relax, to play, to do nothing, to socialise and to connect with parents. Being a good parent means allowing kids to fail and then learning from their mistakes. It means building meaningful connections and not just being a chauffeur.

We must always remember that perfect isn't possible. We want to raise well-adjusted and happy adults. Parents need to press the pause button and lighten up a bit, relax and slow down. I am not at all suggesting that we should not encourage and expect that our children put consistent effort into their studies, instead I am saying that not all kids will be grade 'A' students, but we must love them just the same.

Parental encouragement is essential for helping children unleash their full potential. We have the duty to ensure that our children are making the best of their educational opportunities, but we must never place so much pressure to the point of overstressing kids or having them fear us.

Let's make a conscious effort to dial down the pressure and ensure that our children have well-balanced and happy lives. Let us teach kindness to one another and let us lead by example. They will have become successful when they have done their best, notwithstanding their grades.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com.

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