Subtle Manipulation or Responsible Parenting?

2 06 2009

Shaun GoodsellEvery summer parents are faced with situations that require them to decide how much energy to invest in getting their kids to do things they say they do not want to do.

Consider the following situation:

Your eleven-year-old son has been playing with a group of his neighborhood friends. These are kids that he doesn’t see much due to the fall and winter schedule that keeps everybody busy and without much margin. Knowing that you are going to have a battle on your hand you quietly but clearly say to your son, “It’s time to get ready for your practice”. The response is: “Do I have to go”? To which you respond, “We made a commitment and we are going”.  Deep inside you know you are going to face an entire summer of this and you drive to the game or practice with a nagging feeling wondering if it is all worth it.

At what point are we simply engaging in subtle parent manipulation as opposed to being a responsible parent? Let me offer some thoughts to bring clarity on this often-asked dilemma.

First, let me say that it is my belief that we are forcing our children to grow up too quickly. Sure, I believe in the value of making commitments and keeping them. I believe in sticking with something even when it is not “fun” and the importance of delaying gratification. We are not talking about twenty-year olds that are working in their first job. We are talking about young kids who have no concept of time beyond the day they are in. How can we expect them to understand the ramifications of playing on teams that have multiple practices a week with games and tournaments?  The answer is we can’t. What we can do is encourage our kids to be involved with teams and then give them some freedom and choices to make decisions periodically to take a break and utilize their choice to dictate their involvement. I am not saying they should miss half of the season, but, there is a big difference between never missing and being uncommitted.

What really ends up happening is that many kids end up going resentfully; believing they need to please their parents. When this happens the kids tend to play with less passion, less emotional and physical motivation, and the sport often ends up feeling like a job. The answer in my mind is not in absolutes…it is in reinforcing the values of commitment, perseverance, and belonging while granting our kids some choices to ensure that the motivation stays intrinsic. This tends to cultivate a more long-term positive relationship with the sport. The challenge we have as parents is to walk this line carefully with the understanding that using our will to push our kids has an emotional price tag that fluctuates between manipulation and responsible parenting. Tread carefully.

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