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?