Controversial: Making kids do things they don't want to do

Feb 22 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Deliberately controversial posts are meant to spark debate.  This one may not be quite as controversial as some of our previous offerings (homeschooling, labels, feminism...), but let's see what you think.  (Issues of parenting often get the most arguing.  We find this fact both sad and amusing at the same time.  Kind of like much of life.)

We grew up Catholic, so obviously we grew up with the underlying philosophy that a lot of things that are good for you are painful. "It builds character," my mother would say anytime I'd complain. "Yes, just think of all the years I'm burning off of Purgatory," I would reply.

There was also that Midwestern Protestant stoicism telling us what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. We're not sure how much we believe it, but it is in our blood pushing us ever onward.

That's not the message we hear coming out of the coasts, the NYTimes, the mommy forums... That message is that if kids don't like something, they shouldn't have to do it. Schools shouldn't give homework. Kids shouldn't do extra-curriculars they don't like (or at all!). Tiger Moms are horrible people. Five year olds should be red-shirted so they can play in the dirt another year before starting school. Kids need to play, not learn. Why do kids need to read? (But... but... my kid LOVES reading/learning/math.) I think Cloud said it best when she talked about adults projecting that they wished they had lots of free time on their kids (and, as a corollary, that they don't like math). The Rousseau dream-child concept is still hard at work.

(Somehow when it comes to a gifted kid being bored, then they really need to learn to be bored... it's ok to force a kid to be bored but not ok to force a kid to do activities.)

I did swimming lessons for 7 years, but didn't want to quit. I had to do piano lessons for 9 years. I'm glad I wasn't allowed to quit. I did Ballet lessons for 5 years. I wish I'd been allowed to quit a lot earlier. I did Catholic Sunday School or CCD until I was in 4th grade, despite constant complaining. I'm not sure if I wish I'd been allowed to quit sooner or not, considering I switched religions and went of my own volition once no longer forced to be Catholic.

Growing up there were many things I was forced to do I wish I didn't have to do, and many things I'm glad I was forced to do, knowing what I do now. Younger me isn't a great predictor of older me's preferences, and who knows if parents are better or not. Hopefully they're a little better.

So: Bottom line: We think that sometimes it's ok for kids to do things in their best interest even if they don't wannnna. We still wish we hadn't had to go to public school. Blech.

Grumpeteers? Your thoughts?

6 responses so far

  • Ewan says:

    I wish that I had been forced to continue piano lessons; doubtless my 9 year-old will resent being forced to so continue :).

    In general I figure that a big part of parenting is imposing actions to produce future benefit until the kids' PFCs are fully developed.

    • Precision flight controls?

      • becca says:

        Prefrontal cortext, I presume. But precision flight controls has a certain resonance with that.

        I may be deeply and profoundly flawed from not being forced to do things like go to school, but I don't think you *can* force kids to do most things (I mean, you can pick them up and move them when they are little, but even at 2 my little goofball can resist that if he really wants to. It won't work much longer).

        What you can do, is influence their behavior with positive and negative reinforcement.
        But then, my kid loves brushing his teeth, reading letters, attempting to feed himself (fairly successfully) and dress himself (not quite as advanced there yet), and his favorite food might be broccoli. So either I won the parenting lottery (likely) and/or my attitude toward parenting is like my parent's- I focus on the good stuff, and it reinforces over time.

        • Ewan says:

          Prefrontal cortices indeed - sorry!

          And yeah, reinforcement is the approach; I think that 'forcing' is just one extreme of this (but also comes out of a whole life-thus-far of discovering that in fact your parents do mean what they say, and so 'if you don't practice your cello there's no DS' will have exactly that consequence!)

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    I have mixed feelings on the topic. I was allowed to quit piano and wished I hadn't. Conversely I loved the 6 years of dance lessons until my inflated vision of my skill was quashed upon applying for drill team freshman year in high school. I had never actually seen video of my dancing before and it turns out I was certifiably awful and no one had the heart to tell me I should have quit.

    I can say that if my parents had forced me to have free time instead of letting me start school I would have been bored out of my gourd. Knowing me and my propensity for "idle hands syndrome" I probably would have started MacGyvering things with semi-destructive or at least disruptive outcomes in my search to figure out how stuff works. My parents never pressured me to achieve, rather I would pressure myself. They just sat back and watched it happen. Like anything a blanket statement or policy is going to do a disservice to the outliers. Especially in child rearing decisions should be made on a case by case basis.