One of the most important generationally relevant must-reads from last week is this piece from Dr. Profeta . It was republished at slowfamilyliving, a website that goes against the grain of our era’s current tendency to hyperparent. In his Your Kid And My Kid Are Not Playing In The Pros Dr. Profeta weights in on the almost unbelievable encounters he has run into with parents of athletic-hopefuls (at least hopefuls for the parents) over his career as an ER doctor. When their children come in for serious, possibly debilitating or even life threatening injury, the parents’ first reaction is not one that reveals concern for their health, but their athletic prospects. Ruptured ligaments, concussions, mononucleosis or alcohol poisoning are not enough for these parents to worry for the wellbeing of their children, or even reevaluate what went wrong in their upbringing. Instead the worry goes immediately to their competitive edge in this fierce world of winners and losers. It’s that black and white. Either you compete toward national championship or your kid ends up unholy and subcultural (gasp!).
Dr. Tim Elmore in Psychology Today calls them Avatar Parents. He says, “Sports Illustrated for Kids reported that 75 percent of their readers said they had witnessed out-of-control parents at their games, ranging from parents and coaches yelling at each other, or at kids or officials, to adults who got violent during a game.” Furthermore that in an informal study “45 percent of kids had been called names, yelled at or insulted by adults when playing. 22 percent said they were pressured to play even when they were hurt, and almost one in five said they had been hit, kicked or slapped while participating.”
It’s a strange paradox. Last year a wrote a piece about Generation X parents choosing extreme sports for themselves while bubble-wrapping their own kiddos from any potential harm. I suggested that these parents’ tendency to seek danger might be an effect of risk compensation. It would seem logical that parents living dull, boring lives that are even more amputated by their sheltered coexistence with their budding snowflakes feel the need to do risky activities for leisure. But this does not explain the parents who behave completely opposite. But Dr. Profeta as well as Dr. Elmore suggests that parents pushing their kids’ academic performances to the extreme are living vicariously through their children, hence the term “avatar”. Moreover, they worry so much about their progeny’s future that they paradoxically put their children in harms ways (injury, subjection to raucous adult behaviors during matches etc.) to avoid lesser and hypothetical harms, such as becoming a (gasp!) average child.
As long as access to higher education and other opportunities in life are measured in the ability to deal with gladiator-like circumstances (academically as well as athletically!), this trend might very well continue for a while. At least until more families see the counterproductive outcomes in the form of burnouts, poor social skills, emotional detachment and inability to handle failure.
As parents, educators, employers and society we must try to overcome our urge to over-protect, micro-manage and in extreme cases, bully our kids to champion status. We must redefine what skills our children should have that will be most helpful in the future. Are we really willing to sacrifice their ability to cope with defeat, empathize with others and think independently and critically for the pipe dream of an athletic career and ivy league admission? And are these really the employees recruiters will want in the future? We don’t have to give our children trophies just for showing up. But neither should we tell our children or ourselves that their future hinges on the collection of trophies. I already see that a promising move away from this trend is underway, which is why I have forecasted that the next trend in parenting will be Resilience Parenting. Yet, we need to get enough coaches, educators, admissions officers and employers to make the change. If you are in any of these positions, I would love for you to weigh in on the comment section below.
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