Let's Hear it for the Average Child

The key to a child's future success? Parents whose expectations are, above all, realistic.
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Pressured Children, Showcase kids

In Ashland City, Tennessee, the parents of a 5-year-old insist that their daughter is "already far too advanced" for the small town's public-school kindergarten. Instead, they believe, she should start school in first grade. It takes an entire month of tearful late-night homework sessions -- to catch up on skills normally acquired in kindergarten -- before these parents finally acknowledge that their daughter actually does belong in kindergarten with the other children her age.

In Dayton, Ohio, a mother and father volunteer to coach the local Odyssey of the Mind competition so they can place both their elementary-age kids on the team. (The coach's child doesn't have to try out.) The children, neither of whom has the academic credentials to be chosen for the team on the basis of performance alone, spend the entire competition chasing each other around the auditorium.

In San Marcos, Texas, a mother drives her child 40 miles to karate lessons every day. This grueling schedule has resulted in a shelf full of first-place karate trophies and a 12-year-old child who has never had an after-school play date with another kid.

What are these parents thinking?

While the parents described above are extreme examples, they're not uncommon. We all know parents who've gone this far or farther. If we admit it, we also know that the impulse behind their actions is a feeling we've had ourselves: We all believe that our children are above average.

But according to experts, only about 10 percent of kids are truly gifted, either academically or creatively. The rest are just garden-variety children -- perfectly delightful, ordinary kids. Unfortunately, most parents these days don't want average kids. So we nudge our children to try baseball as well as soccer, to accept the solo in the school musical, to make A's in subjects that don't come all that easily to them, to take French lessons after school and tennis on Saturday. Before long, and from mostly good impulses, we've turned our children into walking resumes. We've also set them up for a lifetime of feeling that nothing they do will ever be good enough.

Continued on page 2:  Damaging Demands


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