Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Trust Hollywood to not only pick up on but also glorify parents' desperate belief that their children are destined for superstardom. Two years ago there was a show hosted by former child star Danny Bonaduce (not exactly a poster boy for mental health) called "I Know My Kid Is a Star" and an even more recent incarnation titled, "My Kid Is Gonna Be Famous." I tripped over these eccentricities while watching "The Soup" which satirizes talk and reality shows. It showed a clip of a mom nagging her daughter to point her toe while bounding across the floor in some sort of dance move. The mother was distressed that she couldn't get her daughter to point that toe, no matter what she said, as if pointing her toe would be the difference between obscurity and fame. Unfortunately, the mom apparently missed the important big picture – her daughter couldn't dance, pointed toe or not.
Such is the plight of parenting. We want success for our children. So we look for glimmers of that success in everything they do, as soon as they do it. If six year old Molly figures out how to dribble to the goal our pride opens up a vista where Molly scores the winning goal in the 2024 Olympics. No matter that Molly also "excels" at blowing bubbles and climbing trees. Once we focus on the future we begin to orchestrate that future supplanting fun with work. Slowly, insidiously we become that mom harping over our own "pointed toe" situation. Our anxiety that somehow our child will fall behind in the competitive scenario overrides our common sense. In a world that offers up Justin Bieber, Brazilian soccer prodigies, and ten year old opera singers, it's difficult not to see the same potential in our own darlings. And there are plenty of vultures willing to encourage that dream.
This fall a Colorado company released a kit that parents can purchase to test their child's DNA specifically for the ACTN3 gene that apparently affects speed and endurance. When studying elite athletes a group of scientists in Australia noticed that those with great speed had the R variant of the gene and those with great endurance had the X variant. In 2004 this test was made available in Australia and has now come to America. For $149 a parent can buy the test, take a swab of their child's mouth, and in a few weeks discover which type of sport the child should pursue. But a study by a team at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse of the predictability of such a test determined that many elite athletes are actually missing both variants of the gene. And no longitudinal study has yet to be done to see if what the test predicted proved to be true for those kids who took the test. As one researcher at UW-LC suggested, a better test would be "Just line them up with their classmates for a race and see which ones are the fastest." That's the common sense approach.
Expensive sport's development camps make tremendous claims about their ability to take your child from hum drum to spectacular all for a price requiring a second mortgage. Their brochures sizzle with testimonials from past attendees who went on to win the World Series or Olympic Gold. Every parent needs to approach those claims with a skeptical eye. While many sport's development camps can certainly improve your child's strength, endurance, and skills, they can't sell different genes. So much of success in any venture depends on variables over which few of us have control. If your child appears on scale to top out at 5' 4" he or she will probably not be a basketball star. Consider the camps for what they are, not for what you hope they will be. They are places to improve as a player; they are not places to ensure your child's place in history. For every camper who went on to have a Super Bowl ring, 1000 went on to settle for a class ring, and that exemplary participant probably would have achieved what he or she achieved with or without the camp.
The website Wiki-How has an article titled "How to Turn Your Child into a Soccer Star" (http://www.wikihow.com/Turn-Your-Child-Into-a-Soccer-Star). The article is actually pretty good and really has nothing to do with turning your child into a star. But the title certainly is provocative. Gomestic.com had a great article (http://gomestic.com/family/does-your-child-have-an-athletes-mindset/) on your child's athletic mindset which the author, T. Edward, feels is the best predictor of a child's athletic future than anything else. He argues that if a child isn't mentally involved in the sport both on and off the field, he or she probably isn't going to excel in that sport or possibly any sport. He argues that parents ignore their child's mindset because they are caught up in the Pro Athlete Dream State (PADS), over assessing their child's athletic ability, blinded by their own ambition. PADS parents confront coaches about playing time, criticize their children for the most minor of mistakes, and are easily disappointed by even good results. PADS parents exist everywhere. We see them on the sidelines coaching every move of their kids, taking on the referees when calls aren't going their way, and greeting their child after the game with an immediate assessment of what went wrong. If we are honest, we would admit that we have all fallen prey to the PADS label at some point in our children's lives. We need to be able to put that behind us and become supportive, accepting parents who don't need to validate our worth by our kids' achievements.
In "The Soup" clip, I found it delightful that the child, despite the constant carping, appeared to be enjoying her leaps, twists, and frolics. She happily continued her dance moves without regard to form and embraced the wildness of her actions. While mom wanted perfection, daughter achieved joy. Fame, whatever that translates to, will be on her own terms. With that yardstick, all our kids will be famous.