What educators, instructors, and coaches don’t want you to know about the pressures facing youngsters in performance activities. Learn the truth, revealing the turmoil families may encounter when kids are “pushed to perform” in competitive endeavors.
So your little Susie wants to join a competitive gymnastic club? You conclude that this is going to be great fun! Maybe, you even think this is just the ticket your bouncy little girl needs to get rid of her pent-up energy while meeting other little friends. Initially, all seems well as you proudly watch your Susie happily striving to achieve equilibrium success. However, as the first competitive trial draws near, Susie is apprehensive and fearful. She doesn’t appear quite as secure as she did during the training classes. Why not?
You’re thrilled! Your ten year old son Randy wants to play on the little league baseball team. You think this is perfect. He can learn the importance of being a team member while gaining some confidence participating in a sport that he enjoys. His father is delighted to see that his son is taking after the old block. Dad begins the push for his son’s success by providing daily pointers of the game. In the beginning, everything seems dandy until Randy starts to behave aggressively for unexplainable reasons. How come?
The school exams are only two months away. Your sixteen year old has been listening to you preach the virtues of being number one since school began countless years ago. I mean, after all, getting into the top-ranked university is important stuff. Your family’s reputation is at stake. Andrew is fully aware that he has to measure up in the Harvard family tree. The school year appears to go smoothly until Andy slumps into an apparent state of exhaustion. He barricades himself in a locked bedroom, refusing to get up to go to school or speak to anyone. What happened?
You’ve always love attending the ballet. You think it would be fabulous if your youngster took an interest in your passion. As a well-intentioned parent, you encourage your Sarah to take a few dance classes as a way of introducing her to classical repertoire. Over the course of time her interest grows and she appears to blossom under the guidance of the tutor’s instructions. This pleases you immensely which makes your budding ballerina work even harder for acquiring your continued praise. Within two years, however, you notice your daughter’s always argumentative and bites your head off when you question why. What did you do to deserve this?
It’s really quite simple but nobody wants to talk about this controversial subject. These youngsters are having a difficult time coping with the pressures they sustain from performance activities. How did this happen?
Unfortunately, too few parents recognize the dangers lurking in the wings for our children. I didn’t. We readily accept the insulting, reprimanding remarks by a teacher, the often foul-mouthed, screaming outbursts by a coach, and the demeaning, belittling comments made by instructors. Admittedly, we want to see our kids succeed in life, but at what cost? All too often, parents’ disregard the consequences of their well-meaning actions and many youngsters pay dearly to achieve our expectations. We fail to recognize that youngsters are not equipped emotionally or psychologically to contend with the daily bombardment of negative comments to their impressionable psyches. They are still too immature and therefore; ineffectively deal with the constant assault on their suggestible minds. They lack the ability to define what constitutes a winner or a loser. Their interpretation of this attainment is solely a reflection of their parents, educators, and instructors alike. Their vulnerability even extends to the media that dictates what is attractive, fashionable, and acceptable in our success driven society. Sad, but true.
As well-intentioned parents we want the best for our children. We conscientiously attempt to provide them with a variety of avenues to explore, academically, athletically, and in the arts. Many parents believe that competitive endeavors build character, focus, and determination. For others, performance activities may provide a vehicle for talented children to discover their self-worth in society. Additionally, some parents view performance activities as a venue for a potential career, i.e., hockey, acting, basketball, swimming, dancing, gymnastics, etc. However; if truth be known, many unwitting parents inadvertently set these kids off on a path of stress, insecurity, and low self-esteem, particularly when youngsters enter turbulent adolescence.
Even though chaotic adolescence can play havoc in a family’s life, it is not the sole culprit. The “pressures to perform” can play an equally significant role during this volatile period, affectionately referred to as “the insanity of adolescence”. It can account for initiating some real life issues such as bulimia, anorexia, depression, rage, drugs, cutting, and potential suicide.
How do I know these things? Because my family was a casualty in this war of pandemonium with a pressurized adolescent deeply committed to a highly competitive endeavor. We lived the nightmare many parents would like to avoid.
I’m going to ask you some questions. Think about them for a moment and answer them honestly:
1. How do some youngsters cope with the pressures they sustain from performance activities?
2. What are their deepest, darkest, fears?
3. What are some of the methods they may employ when dealing with their mounting adolescent insecurities?
4. Why do some talented kids feel like failures, regardless of their successes?
5. Have you ever considered that their rebellion, inappropriate behavior, and negative acting-out may stem from the pressures to perform?
6. Could the rage they exhibit be only symptomatic of a deeper frustration youngsters endure?
If you were able to answer any of these questions due to your insider knowledge of what I’m referring to; Bravo! You’re amongst a handful of enlightened parents that understand this new age dilemma. You’re fully aware of the negative repercussions that a family can encounter when an adolescent is confronted by the mounting pressures of performance activities. You’re part of a select group of parents that realize the today’s youngsters face personal challenges and societal issues that past generations rarely needed to address. A case in point would be the rise in eating disorders amongst girls in performance activities such as gymnastics, dance, and swimming.
It is estimated that up to sixty-two percent of females who participate in “appearance sports” such as gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, and diving are suffering from an active eating disorder. World-class gymnast Christy Henrich died after her struggle with anorexia and bulimia. In the late 1980s, Christy was 4’10”, weighing ninety pounds. After one of her competitions, she was told by a US gymnastics judge that she needed to lose weight if she hoped to make the 1988 Olympic team. In 1994, she died of multiple organ failure at twenty-two, weighing less than sixty pounds.
Lea Thompson, from the hit TV sitcom Caroline in the City, commented on eating disorders in the dance world today, recalling that during her days as a dancer, she was told by a theatre company that at 5’5” tall and ninety-six pounds, she was too “stocky” to be considered.
And, don’t think for a minute that girls are exclusive to the pressures from performance activities. Here is a sampling of one heartfelt letter I received from one of my readers.
“My fifteen year old son was a star goalie on the local hockey team. Between the screaming insults by the parents in the stands and the inexcusable yelling by the coaches, my kid felt like a failure most of the time. After reading your book, a light went on in my head and I sat him down for a fatherly talk. I was stunned to discover how badly he felt about losing a "game" and letting his mother and me down. What I thought was just a little healthy competition was really tearing this kid up inside. Talk about a reality check. Needless to say, we followed your advice and gave him the choice to stay in or get out. He chose to stay, but with a very different attitude. Now, he's doing this for himself, not for us or anyone else. Thanks a bunch for setting me straight.”
Fort Myers, Texas
I know that the subject matter in this article is a tough one to swallow; nevertheless, I also know that it’s important that you learn the truth about this modern day misconception.
As the mother of a stressed-out high achiever who spent nine years in highly competitive professional dance institutions, I consider myself an authority on this subject. As an unsuspecting (and well-intentioned)) parent, I was unaware that the combination of adolescent instability and the pressures within the dance environment sparked a ticking time-bomb with my volatile daughter as the detonator. I found it discomforting to consider that I may have unconsciously contributed to pushing the explosive button.
The world of competitive activities is not all that it’s cracked up to be and “success at all cost” may be too high a price to pay for undermining the psychological well-being of impressionable teens.
What happened to us can happen to any well-intentioned family with children who are pushed to perform in academics, the arts, or athletics
About the author:
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, this distinguished author writes under the pen name, Karen Montgomery. She has written numerous fictional short stories and articles during her ten year career as a freelance writer. "Turn A Blind Eye" is Ms. Montgomery's premier non-fiction book. Karen now lives with her family in a suburb outside of Toronto. http://www.easytodownload.com/blind_eye_info.htm