Hyper Parenting & Child Stress – The Structured Child

Its called Hyper Parenting and it’s the new rat race in town- the race to produce super child prodigies. The pressures are heavy on both the parents and the child. Today’s parents feel like failures if they have not provided their child with every single opportunity available. Once having done so however, they feel cheated if the child does not turn out to be the genius of their dreams, showing up all the other children.
The schedule of an average urban middle class child in India has begun to resemble the diary of the President of America. Its rush, rush and more rush from morning to night, a packed, round the clock diary of classes and events and never any free time in sight. After school, there are tutorial classes, sports coaching classes, computer classes, language classes, swimming lessons, karate lessons and hobby lessons. Over the holidays there are summer camps, children’s adventure camps, nature camps and a variety of innovative workshops from clay modeling to theatre.

There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to give your children a well-rounded education and exposure to opportunities that many of us never enjoyed. In fact the stunning array of classes and children’s workshops, camps etc available today open up a world of immense opportunity and potential to a child. The trouble starts when a parent uses the classes as a method of fulfilling his own lifestyle needs or childhood dreams in any way. Or when the aim of the class shifts from providing enjoyment to the child to providing for future employment opportunities alone.

Why do parents structure a child’s life?

  • The increasing trend towards nuclear families and working parents means that latchkey children must be given something to do to keep them occupied and safe.
  • Parents didn’t enjoy the opportunities available to their children and they want them to make full use of these in consequence – even if the child himself is not as interested!
  • Having access to all kinds of expensive classes is sometimes considered a status symbol.
  • The classes are seen as an opportunity to exploit the potential genius of the child in any field and also to equip the child with an all round education so that he has a competitive edge over all others.
  • Worry about the future – almost all coaching classes and tutorials are started because parents are afraid that otherwise their child will not be able to secure that crucial seat in school or college or ace that job interview.

Effects of too much structured time –

Structuring a child’s time with an orderly progression of classes may be convenient if you are working and need to keep the child usefully occupied for as long as possible. But the fact remains that this type of structuring denies a child some of the very advantages you may be seeking to equip him with.

  • He has no time to stop and indulge in the gift of imagination, reading, fantasy play or mere contemplation of the world. He never has a chance to savour the joys of unstructured play time or leisure time
  • In all classes, he is being told what to do and he learns to relinquish his own power of original thinking and unquestioningly accept what others in authority tell him.
  • Unable to develop his inner resources of imagination and wonder, he becomes uncomfortable with his own company and easily bored in the absence of outside entertainment.
  • He also misses out on opportunities to be creative and think up fun and innovative games and activities because not only does he not have the time, he hasn’t learned to think for himself
  • Parents tend to expose the child to activities that they are interested in – as the child has no time to explore and think, he is not able to develop areas of his personality that may be more compatible with his aptitude and interest. For example you may want your son to sing well but he may be more inclined towards writing.
  • A child often has no choices in the way his time has been structured by his parents. This can lead to resentment and rebellion as well as to feelings of helplessness.
  • There are some dangers arising from the emotional investment made by the parent in the outcome of all this structured activity. If the child doesn’t do as well as expected or doesn’t thrive as much as hoped, the parents begin to consider themselves failures, the child unsatisfactory and the whole expensive effort wasted. The stress and worry of the parent communicates itself to the child causing his stress levels to go up as well and adversely affecting his performance. Thus a vicious cycle builds up leading to erosion of self-esteem and perhaps clinical depression.

So what do you do as a parent? Denying your child these opportunities for fear of his possibly ending up in depression is not a viable option. Instead the thumb rule should be moderation. Let the child set the pace. If he seems bored on his own and enjoys some structured activity there is absolutely no harm in providing it. If his overall work is suffering, or he seems unhappy, consider removing him from the classes. Provide him with opportunities for unstructured play. Enroll the child into classes based more on his sphere of interest rather than on the basis of your own. Wherever possible participate in an activity or class together. Make him feel loved regardless of how well he does. See if you can provide him with reliable and loving family or friend support so that you don’t need to worry about his safety while he gets to spend some time on his own.
Our world changes everyday. There are many more opportunities available to our children than our parents could ever imagine. Therefore, basing decisions solely on present conditions is not necessarily adequate security for the future, particularly as far as the job market is concerned. On the other hand allowing a child to develop his creative and imaginative powers will equip him better to adapt to changing circumstances and also to create a strong emotional and psychological basis for the tough times ahead. So relax and follow your instincts rather than your fears or your neighbours.

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