Letting Go Of Superkids

first_imgMy friend’s daughter, a sixth grader, came home, at the end of her school year, with a straight A report card. “Did the FAME results come out?” her mother inquired, “Who won the first prize?”The girl looked down and mumbled the name of the winner. She had tried hard, spent many nights on her essay, but had failed to “win.”“Oh,” said, her mother, looking disappointed. Somehow, I had the feeling that the excellent report card was a bare minimum expectation. The real unasked question was, “What else do you excel at?”Many times, I’ve done the same thing — greeted my son’s attempts with regret or disappointment, simply because he didn’t “win.” But watching someone else gave me a new perspective. High expectations from parents are nothing new to me. After all, I’m Indian. I was expected to work hard in school and get good grades, period. No excuses. But that expectation seems to pale in comparison to what the current generation of Indian American kids goes through. It’s not just about academics anymore. Every child is expected to be highly talented, nothing short of a prodigy.We see Superkids all around us. And as parents, we start to worry if we’re not on this bandwagon. We relentlessly seek membership in the Superkid club, pushing our kids to achieve. If our sons and daughters are not chess champions or tennis aces, we can’t look people in the eye.Who are these Superkids, you wonder? You see them everywhere, but you may not spot them. On the surface, they look like, well, kids. Their lives however, are anything but kid-like. They work longer and harder than the average adult. They compete in Math Olympiads and take advanced piano lessons. They play soccer in the fall, and learn web design in the summer. And in between, they work hard to move up through the zillion belts in Taekwando.This is not to say that it’s all bad. You can’t contain real talent, or mask true genius. There will always be kids who were born to do calculus in the 5th grade or play the violin like a pro at 8. And they have our admiration, no doubt. But what about the rest of us?What if our children do not want to learn piano, let alone excel at it? What good can come from forcibly turning them into maestros? Will they derive any pleasure from it?What if a child’s talents lie elsewhere? What if she was meant to help animals or fly airplanes or save rainforests? This part of her will never be discovered. She will never get a chance to find out who she is, or what she loves to do.There’s my son’s friend who sometimes comes over to play table tennis in our garage. As they play, I can hear them talking and laughing about books they’ve read, people they’ve met. I can tell he’s a bright kid. But somehow, Math does not seem to be his forte. “You need to work harder,” his mom pesters him, “look at Abhay, I barely ever see him come out. He gets a perfect 600 on his Star testing!”This boy doesn’t talk back, but I can see his expression, “Yes I suck at Math.”But what if he were to change that over time to “Yes I suck (in general)?”Why do we parents do this to our kids? We love them, that’s for sure. But somehow, somewhere, we’ve managed to shut down our antennae to their signals.These children have already altered their goals in life. To them, the goal is to make others happy; it’s no longer about discovering how they can make a unique contribution to the world. What if our children were taught to enjoy their hobbies, rather than work at them, what if they are encouraged to explore their interests, rather than being handed them down? Imagine their life, if they succeed at what they choose to do because they enjoy it. This success will give them confidence, which in turn breeds more success.Every kid can be a super kid and achieve her potential, once she knows what motivates her. But as a parent, you need to give her a chance to find out.My son came home very excited one day and announced that he had to pick a planet for his science project. “Go with Venus!” I suggested.“Why?” he asked.“Because it’s so interesting. It’s about the same size as Earth, but has a very hostile environment. Sulphuric acid clouds, extreme pressure and temperatures, extreme greenhouse effect…..”“I want to do Pluto,” he said sullenly.“But we know the least about Pluto. And some scientists don’t even consider it a planet.”“That’s why I want to do it. We know very little about it. It’s the most mysterious one.”“But it may be hard to get a good grade, if you don’t have enough material …..”He began to walk away, with his head down, his shoulders drooping.I reluctantly let him choose Pluto. It wasn’t easy for me. I’m always telling him what he needs to do. He was so excited about it. He worked hard on it, needed no reminders, and when he finally presented, he did so with passion, confidence, and style. I even learnt a thing or two about Pluto.Recently I found him browsing in the library. To my surprise, he was reading a book about Venus. “Mom, isn’t it funny that Venus is the Roman Goddess of love? And it is the brightest and most beautiful object in the night sky …. and yet, this is in sharp contrast to its harsh environment?”“Yes, that’s true!” I said, delighted at his observation.He was opening up to my ideas, because I had opened up to his!It was the right thing to do — letting him choose — even if I haven’t always done it. I’m still learning.   Related Itemslast_img read more