A Leg Up on the Competition

As parents in American culture we are fixated with planning for our children and their future. Before they’re born, or perhaps even prior to conception we are strategizing how we will make our children good people; better people. During gestation women are bombarded with decisions to make that they are told will forever effect their unborn child’s life. “If I eat red dye studies say my child will be more likely to have behavioral issues. If I don’t get enough folic acid, or DHA, my child will not reach their full intellectual potential.” The list goes on and on. Once the child arrives then you must make critical decisions on what type of parent you will be. “If I co-sleep my child will be a more trusting, and well-adjusted adult. But, if I let them cry it out they will learn to self-soothe and be more independent, risk takers.” Then there are decisions about breastfeeding versus formula, to binky or not to binky, cloth versus disposable. If we make the wrong decision it may be to the detriment of our children. The older the child gets, the more pressure you will feel from society to groom the perfect person.

We as a society are obsessed with planning, predicting and projecting the future for our children. Why do we do this? Why do we as Americans worry so much about what the future holds for our children and why do we feel as though we have such a heavy influence upon that? It comes down to the structure of our society. There is a great division of wealth among Americans. Though much of what Marx predicted about the free market and capitalism can be criticized, one thing that seems apparent is that the rich truly are getting richer and the poor are either getting poorer or at least staying poor. It takes a lot for the middle to lower class American to move up in this climate of economic inequality. How do we as parents propel our children upward, to rise above our economic circumstances? We have been conditioned to believe that in order to keep our children relevant and indispensable we must insure that they have a leg up on the competition. All you need to do is turn on a children’s television network and you will see examples of this. There are commercials for programs like ABCMouse.com, designed to get your child “ahead of the game.” For roughly $8 a month they will provide preschool and kindergarten curriculums for children aged two to 7-years-old. Better yet, the program is set up so that the child can navigate through the games and lessons on their own. Your child can be learning and advancing unsupervised, leaving you with much needed free time that you will most fill doing another task. If you make your way over to the testimonial page, you will see recommendation after recommendation citing how their toddler is now working on a kindergarten or higher curriculum level. Their child will now be entering kindergarten far surpassing the “mediocre” children who can only read at their grade level. Won’t Harvard be thrilled to know your child was reading Goodnight Moon to themselves at 24 months?

And we don’t just do this in terms of academia; it’s prevalent in all aspects of our children’s’ lives. I, too, have found myself guilty of this “grooming” for competition. It was not apparent to me until I was reading through Busier Than Ever! Why American Families Can’t Slow Down. In the book, there are several families who, despite arduous and grueling schedules, have their children partake in extracurricular activities and sports. When asked why, most families cited that it was to keep their children “well-rounded” for college transcripts or in hopes of procuring an athletic scholarship. Though my scope was much narrower, I have been inadvertently grooming my 2-year-old to have a leg up on the competition as well. My now 12-year-old brother has been involved in little league baseball since he was in pre-school. He now plays all year long, and my son has been exposed to baseball from birth. Ever since he has been able to pick up a bat and ball he has been emulating his uncle. Many people have commented on how advanced he is and what great form he has for his age. This feedback had prompted me in to searching for a t-ball league for him to join. Much to my dismay, they do not have t-ball leagues for children that young. Instead of being discouraged, I was determined to convince them to allow him to join because he was so “advanced.” I would like to believe that I am an amazing mother who sees how much her child enjoys playing baseball and didn’t want him to wait a year to play the sport he loves. However, it is more likely that it was structure of our competitive culture influencing me. I have seen how cutthroat the sport can get for children, through my brother’s experience. In placing my child in baseball a year early, he will have a year of skill and technique over the other children of his age group. My child will have a leg up on the tiny competition.

by Heather George

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