Every parent has chirped at least one of these demanding phrases — some would even argue that they’re part of your parenting duties:
“You need to get straight A’s so that you can go to a great college.” “You need to get a perfect ACT score so that you can get into an Ivy League school.” “You need to be in extracurricular activities so that your college applications are really impressive.” “You need to participate in unpaid internships so that you have work experience on your resume.” “You need to do hours of community service so that you can add spruce to your applications and resume.”
And so goes the next generation of children who have rarely been encouraged to play outside and actually enjoy childhood. They haven’t learned to want to do charity or service work because they have been cajoled into doing it as another notch on their achievement belts. They have had almost no internal motivation to actually learn, which can lead to good grades; instead, they’ve done what they needed to do for the straight A’s, but left the joy and excitement of learning behind.
They have learned how to take standardized tests because they’ve studied how to take standardized tests, rather than read a precious novel for its own sake. Yes, they are savvy, smart, worldly, precocious and clever, but are they happy, joyful and living for childhood? Or are they living for their future? If we only speak to them about college, graduate school and careers, how can they possibly revel in the middle or high school experience? If college is merely a stepping stone for the six-figure job, then are they really learning how to live joyfully and fully while they are still in school?
The “so that” days aren’t the days we are living now, and by solely focusing on that, we are keeping our children from their very limited childhood moments. Children today are tweeting and texting this phrase: Good grades, sleep, time with friends — you can’t have all three so choose two.” Is it really true that in order to become a successful, thriving adult our children must now give up one or more aspect of childhood?
Are we so sure that straight A’s, perfect ACT scores, community service and extracurricular activities are the exact equation to a successful adulthood? I only had one of the four and I truly can’t imagine a happier, more fulfilled adulthood than mine. Interestingly enough, every happy adult I know had one (or none) of the current requirements that are now standard expectations for our children. Good grades, good test scores and community involvement are wonderful things and they may even come relatively easy for some kids. However, if we are training our children to think that the only way to success comes from a perfectly regimented life filled with “so that” expectations, are we setting them up for a life without spontaneity and fun?
Are we so sure that by allowing them to be children, to make mistakes, to be lazy, useless, sloppy and goofy isn’t the right path to adulthood? Do we know for sure that C’s will lead to a life of poor jobs and limited success? Is it absolutely a given that if they attend a state school or even worse, a (gasp!) community college, they are doomed to a small life with little opportunity for growth and success?
Maybe it’s time to give childhood back to our children so that they can pace their way into adulthood. Maybe C’s won’t spell the end of their lives so that they can learn to motivate, to improve because they want to, not because we’ve said they have to. Maybe our children can actually sleep, get acceptable grades and hang with friends so that their childhood is just that, a childhood.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com.
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