I’m really sorry but I have to warn you that this is going to be a bit of a rant…Oh yes, some days mindfulness to me can be paying attention to things that I don’t want to just “hold in awareness” or just “let be”. Sometimes there are issues that need to be actively addressed and discussed, as the “way they are” is simply not good enough…hmm this wording is probably a little inappropriate considering the topic of this blogpost, but anyway….
My girls have got to an age where they are starting to take interest in certain activities such as art, swimming or music for examples and of course I want them to be able to acquire skills and explore their own interests without overfilling their “schedule”. A couple of years ago, when I was checking out what’s on offer in our area, I found it very difficult to find classes or activities that were designed to simply foster skills, encourage social connections and most importantly put emphasis on fun without putting children under more pressure. After some research and enquiries I thought I had found a promising organisation offering drama, music and promoting social skills and self-confidence in children. As both of my daughters are quite shy and self-conscious I had a chat beforehand to ensure that classes are play and activity based rather than focused on performance and I was reassured that this was the case. After the second class we were informed that this year’s play (???) would be “The Jungle Book” and I thought, well it’s nice to have a bit of a motivating theme for their activities… only to be told the next week that more intensive rehearsals would start in a couple of weeks!??!. It transpired that basically we were paying money to provide the cast for a show at the end of the term, for which overpriced tickets were then being sold to the families who were already paying to provide the cast!! This was wrong on so many levels and we stopped bringing our daughter who already after three sessions was not enjoying the class at all.
I’m not sure if this is typical for Ireland, or if this has become a European/Western phenomenon, but it seems that the majority of “leisure” activities for children are based on competition and performance, and I am really upset about this. Children in our Western society are already having to be part of a highly competitive school system where testing starts from a young age and a sense of “I have to be better than…” or “I’m not good enough” is instilled from the start and individual learning styles and needs are mostly just met in theory. Yet their supposed “free time” seems to be even worse. From the word go children have to take part in soccer blitzes, swimming galas, dancing shows, musical concerts, art exhibitions, theatre performances and rugby leagues with very little choice in the matter if they want to pursue an interest without being singled out as the one sitting on the side lines, literally. Most parents I know are complaining about having to drive around half the country in order for their off-spring to represent “the club”, “the team”, “the town”, “the county”…
There are very few options where children can just enjoy taking part in an activity they’re interested in to learn new skills or for the simple enjoyment of getting immersed in an activity and having fun. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any competitions at all, but they should be an optional, separate part of the activities. Not every child will be a successful soccer player, talented painter or accomplished violinist and it is highly unfair and even harmful to put children under pressure when they should be happy to explore their interests and learn new skills because they want to, not because us parents or the coach want them to be high achievers or win the match.
Of course children need to learn about competition as well, and that they have to put in a certain effort to achieve a goal, I’m not so naïve to believe otherwise. They will have to learn to live “in the real world”, which unfortunately is mostly based on competition, especially when it comes to a professional career. I also believe though that there needs to be a balance and that there are more important values and life skills that need to be learned and most especially I believe that children should be given the opportunity to experience an environment where it’s ok to work at their own pace following their own personal interests and passions without any performance pressure.
“Us grownups” should know what it’s like to have to live up to a certain standard all the time. There is a dramatic increase in mental health issues in both children and adults in recent years and in my opinion the root is to some extent to be found in a society that often puts unrealistic expectations on us all: We have to do well in our tests in school, we have to get a certain number of points in the Leaving Cert to be able to study a certain subject, we have to perform well in sports, music, art etc. in order to fit in and feel accepted, we have to live up to a certain body and beauty image and dress in a certain way so we’re not bullied or ridiculed… the list goes on.
It is our duty as parents, educators and members of society to step in and change this attitude of performance, competition and success because important aspects like kindness, compassion, self-confidence and general well-being are left by the wayside having a major impact on us and most especially on the next generation. Things need to become more balanced and children must be given a chance to have room for creativity, social connections and enjoyment without all of this being tainted by a constant sense of having to be better than somebody else. Team spirit can be built through co-operation and a common interest, not just by competing against another team with the incentive of having to win. There should be more choice at least!
I want to add at this point that of course there are many fantastic groups, coaches, teachers, programs and incentives out there who prioritise our children’s well-being and happiness and we ourselves are very lucky to have found a couple of activities for the girls they thoroughly enjoy.
If you are interested in learning about a more mindful approach to parenting and education, check out my book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution” on my website:
or on Amazon: