Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is It Child Abuse?

As my family enters another season of basketball and the calendar is covered with barely legible scribbles of practices, games and concession stand duty, and as we come down from a weekend of 8 games between my four sons, my husband stopped me in my tracks with a thought-provoking question..."Could it be considered a form of child abuse to put your kids through sports and academic competitions? Are we parents guilty of pushing our kids too hard to excel without allowing them the freedoms of childhood?" This was a question that he heard on a morning radio talk show and it intrigued him. It intrigues me.

When I was a child, I loved spelling bees and I always did very well in them, advancing to the state level when I was in the 6th grade. I missed "ptomaine". I had never heard of this type of poisoning before and didn't know it had a silent "p" in the beginning. My sister Cindy used to quiz me from the dictionary every night in preparation for the bee. I'm sure I groaned and complained plenty then, but looking back now I realize that it was a wonderful opportunity for bonding with my sister.

I love watching the Scripps Spelling Bee competition each spring and am blown away by the extreme intelligence that those kids possess. Do you think those brilliant children want to be in that competition, or do their parents push and force them? Or, is it a combination of the two. In either case, I am sure that the participants will go far academically, and lives of success are certainly in the cards for their futures.

When I was in the 5th grade, I participated in a speaking contest for the local Optimist Club. The topic was “Together We Will…” My teacher had invited me to speak and my mom decided that I would give a pro-life speech, in fact, she really wrote the whole thing for me. Competing against high school students, my “Together We Will Fight Abortion” speech took first place in the citywide competition and I went to the zone competition where I placed third. I was very proud and happy to participate in the contest. Following my win, I was asked by several local Catholic women’s groups to give my speech at their meetings.

I remember sitting in the garage with my mom as she was refinishing a dresser. Whenever I needed to discuss an important issue with her, the garage was the place it happened because she always had her hands in furniture stripper or varnish as she lovingly restored antiques. I know I broke her heart when I told her that I did not want to give the speech to the women’s groups. She was so incredibly proud of me, but I was tired of giving the speech. She convinced me to finish out my obligations and then she didn’t schedule me to speak at any future events. Did I feel abused in this whole process? I would definitely say no, what I felt was loved. My mom taught me the value of finishing what you start and honoring your obligations, but she did not push or force me to continue beyond what was already promised.

As far as my sons are concerned, they ask to play basketball and they love it. When the season is over, the four of them are forever scrapping up games in the alley to continue their enjoyment of the sport. If you ask me, I wouldn't call it child abuse, but rather parental abuse, to allow our children to play the sport. After all, we're the ones who have to run everybody back and forth to the practices, sometimes as late as eleven o'clock at night! We're the ones who have to purchase special basketball shoes and pay the fees for them to play and the admission price to watch their games. We're the ones who have to work in the dreaded concession stand risking hot oil burns from the popcorn popper and patiently offering candy to children who can't decide which kind of taffy they want. It is our schedule that must forever be realigned as the coach decides to schedule a last minute tournament 50 miles from home.

I know that my sons will not be offered any sports scholarships to college, and certainly are not headed for professional sports glory, but playing on a team sport with their friends certainly seems to make them happy. And I can't complain when I think about the benefits that all of that physical exercise provides to their growing bodies.

So what do you think? Is it child abuse, parental abuse, neither, both? Do you have a budding athletic or academic star in your household? Do you push them to excellence or simply stand back and enjoy the gifts that God has bestowed upon your children?


  1. This is a wonderful post Anne...thanks for sharing it!
    It does not surprise me in the least that you were already a gifted, talented speaker, speller, writer while still in your youth!
    I think you touched on the most CRUCIAL point of the discussion in saying that your sons "ASK" to play sports.
    Our family has learned to surrender our outside activities to CHRIST, just like everything else in our lives. We actively PRAY and ASK GOD to lead us to the activities that He wishes for each child to participate in ...as well as our family as a whole.
    ONE of the ways, as you well know, that the Holy Spirit prompts and guides us...is through OUR OWN DESIRES...hence, a young man first feels called to priesthood because he feels a glimmer of DESIRE for it.
    The discernment comes in for parents in deciding if this sport or activity is a TRUE desire of our son/daughter and if in participating in it, it will help them GROW...closer to God...in self-confidence...in service...in FAMILY.
    Also...does it benefit the family AS A WHOLE...our experiences at Jake's football games and baseball games are DEFINITELY good for our family...we are all together...even our eldest married children join us when they can so my kids have nieces and in-laws with them!!!
    The point I try to make here is that there is a world of difference between a child who is BEING PUSHED to do these things and one WHO DESIRES IT...and yet...if a child desires it, but parents feel, in their wisdom and discernment that it WOULDN'T be good (for any number of reasons) for that child...then we are called to make that tough decision and say "NO"...if we continue to allow them, merely to satisfy their personal desire...then yes...we are indirectly abusing that child for not having parental courage to do what's best for him/her.
    So...CAN it be abusive? YES...if a parent is living vicariously...or PUSHING AGAINST a child...forcing them...then YES.
    Otherwise...it can also be a BLESSING...AS LONG AS sports, outside activities do not become the MAIN focus of the family...if participation means that there's NO TIME left for family at home...or prayer...or other important things...then again..not good.
    Thanks again...it's important for us to keep this topic in mind as our children grow!

  2. If the kids want to play sports, and can handle school, church, and social activities as well...then it's all good!

  3. Great post! If the kids want to do it, then I say it's not a problem!

  4. I agree, if the kids want to do the activity, then there's no problem so long as you have the time and effort available to get them to it.

    They'll let you know if they ever don't want to do the activity anymore.

    I played basketball all through my youth. I wasn't the star player or anything, but I was very good. The only problem was, I felt like my dad was pushing me, and that he wanted me to succeed more than I did. High school came, and I had been on a summer league with the high school coach. The coach choose to play favorites amongst the players on who would play during the game and who got the most playing time. It was the girls that I played with that summer who went on to play in high school. Because that coach also coached the high school team, I chose to stop playing basketball. I just couldn't, I didn't enjoy it anymore. It wasn't about playing the game anymore, it was a popularity contest. Needless to say, my dad was pretty disappointed.

    But my point is, that if they ever don't want to play, you'll know. It's important to never push a kid to do something they don't want to. Pushing them to excel when you know they have the desire and ability is another thing, but it's only wrong when you're pushing them for selfish reasons.

  5. Sounds like parental abuse to me :) Are you kidding me Anne? I could never do all that, bless your heart!
    I would like Michaela to get involved in activities outside of school. Sports are great and good for kids as long as they want to do it. Michaela likes swimming and I plan on signing her up for lessons. It's great for their bodies and is a good outlet for energetic kids who cannot keep still. Michaela is quick to speak up, if she doesn't want to do something she'll make it known LOUD and CLEAR [if you get my drift] :)

  6. This is something I still wonder about myself. My husband was pushed so hard in his areas of prowess that he feels burned out and remembers feeling as though most of his value was tied to how well he performed.
    I grew up without any encouragement in specific areas because my family was to conservative at the time to feel comfortable allowing their childrent o be involved in anything outside the home!
    I'm not quite sure what we will do with our children, but they are young yet!

  7. Tough and touchy subject - I'm always changing my mind. I think when we were growing up it was easier to throw your kids outside and say don't come back until dinner than it is now - I'm more afraid of CPS and nosy neighbors than child molesters, though. And it's harder with multiple kids because that means more nights out. Growing up all my sibs and I played sports and my parents did a lot of running around. We had it good in VA when our homeschool league had all age group practices at the same time and place one night a week. Not super competitive but enough to have fun, learn the basics and get some exercise. Now we're running out nearly every night of the week, even though each kid only does one thing. We'll see how it goes...

  8. I think if the child wants to play, that is great. But there is such a thing as over-scheduling - no real family time as everyone is running from here to there. Also, children need time to do their own thing, use their imagination, read, play, hang out at home. Family activities are important. I guess what I am trying to say, balance is the key. All good things in moderation.
    My son was in boy scouts for years and played a year or two of basketball, but I never allowed him to play football until high school. There was too much pressure to win and to be perfect in our local league. Too many nights of practice and too long a season. I feel kids should have fun and everyone was taking it too seriously.
    He played football all through high school and absolutely loved it. In his senior year, he told me that I was right for making him wait. He knew kids on his team who were burned out from playing for many years. Some of them quit in their freshman year.
    Now my son is a high school teacher and guess what? A football coach! He loves it with a passion and he thinks his players should have fun. Cool.
    Sorry for this long answer. An important subject. Thanks for sharing!!