I recently had an opportunity to hear a speech by Dr. Ron Taffel, a visionary in the field of child-rearing and education, and one of the most practical experts in the country. Dr. Taffel suggested that today’s parents are tremendously uncertain. For parents in the Greatest Generation (parents who lived through the deprivation of the Depression and then WWII), childrearing felt common and certain. Families lived in a hierarchy. No one praised their kids. Parents didn’t worry about creating rituals to spend time with their kids. For the next generation, the Baby Boomers, parents were certain that the Greatest Generation had it wrong, so they rebelled against all of those values.
For our generation, the parenting pendulum seems to swing back and forth by the week so that we can’t be certain about anything, and the media loves laughing at us flailing. The New York Times recently ran an article with the title, “Sports Training has Begun for Children and Toddlers.” Whereas I thought I was taking my sons to soccer class or baby gym class so we would have something to do during the day, “experts” in the article suggest that I am actually taking my sons to these classes because I believe the experience will give them the leg up they need to be the next Landon Donovan or Paul Hamm. In an effort to make sure our kids don’t fall behind, the article suggests, we’re starting our kids in soccer leagues, T-ball leagues, and gym regimens sooner than ever before. Be careful though, as the article is sure to point out, too much rigorous activity might not be good for little Joey’s developing muscles, bones, and joints, according to the quoted orthopedic surgeon. What is a parent to do?
We worry about spending time with our kids, but not so much time that we become “helicopter parents.” We worry about making sure our kids’ lives are enriched with lots of classes and trips to museums, concerts, and zoos, but not so much so that they become entitled. We want them to do well in school, so we consider sending them to one of the learning centers that seem to be popping up on every corner, but we also want them to develop curiosity and a love of learning that can’t possibly come from rote memorization. We want to give our children every opportunity to become the best and brightest that they can be, but we also want them to be self-motivated enough to seek and exploit these opportunities themselves.
A Dad friend of mine in Indiana recently told me that he had started taking Tae Kwon Do classes with his son. He told me that he was really enjoying being on a level playing field with is son rather than taking his usual role as authority and coach. I loved the idea, so I started thinking about taking violin lessons alongside my oldest son that had started playing a few weeks before. On the one hand, I was already very involved in each lesson so I could help him practice through the week and I was really enjoying learning something new. On the other hand, I wondered whether I should I be letting my son have his own activity without jumping in so deep? Would I be perceived as the dreaded “helicopter parent?” It took me two weeks to decide to go with my original gut thinking – I rented a violin and my son and I have been taking lessons together ever since. We even invited a few friends over a couple weeks ago for a recital in our apartment, and I’ve really enjoyed playing, not only because doing something with my son, but because I’m really enjoying learning something new.
In this era of information overload, the only filter we have is our gut instinct about what feels right. My boys like going to soccer class, so I’ll keep taking them. My wife and I want them to know how to swim, so to swimming class we will go. We are doing what we think is right. That being said, do keep an eye out for my son and me on stage at Carnegie Hall, because certainly, we are the next great father-son string duet.