The Dangers of Over pressuring Our Children

Everyone loves a genius, a prodigy. While some parents harbor the hope that their sons and daughters will grow up to be the next Mozart, Curie or Einstein, many are simply content if their children are in the top 10% of their class, which in itself is no small feat.

One thought that scares many parents is that their children may turn out to be ordinary, rather than gifted, average rather than exceptional.

In our efforts to push them to “greatness” we may push them too hard. In particular, when we place too great an emphasis on academic achievements, we often neglect other aspects of growth and development. As a consequence, we may indeed successfully “create” a straight A genius, but one that lacks emotional maturity as well as the psychological resilience and independence needed to face adulthood.

The following consequences illustrate the dangers of over-pressuring our children.

a. Children lose their love of learning

To many children, the only reason why they’re studying hard is because they don’t want to let their parents down. Many have lost their intrinsic interest in learning, simply because education has now been associated with performance in tests and exams.

When we as parents send our children the message that; “the most important thing is to score in your exams and we don’t care how you do it as long as you meet the performance targets we have set for you,” it kills off the inborn intellectual curiosity that all young children have when they first start their education.

I was talking recently to a kindergarten principal who was sharing with me that she had to gradually phase out some of the fun activities in her school like arts, handicraft, games and music, simply because parents had demanded that more time be spent on “hard” subjects like writing and mathematics.

b. Children are motivated by fear

I have lost count of the number of students my colleagues have counseled who were stressed out because they were absolutely terrified of what their parents would do to them because their results were below average. On the same note, I have met many straight A achievers who also have been driven by fear all their lives so much so that when you ask them why they are studying so hard, they have no reply.

I once heard the quote that went “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” I agree with this. When fear dominates, there is no opportunity for real growth, real exploration, real development, real happiness, real fulfillment.

c. Children are more likely to burn out

Children may be able to cope with the constant pressure of having to perform for a long period of time, but eventually their resources and energy will run dry when their heart is not in their studies. Students burn out when they no longer have any motivation or energy to put into their work.

Ms Wong was a straight A student her whole life, scoring 11 As for her SPM examination, and 4 As for her A levels. Her parents sent her to study law in the UK and then something strange happened. In her second year, she started failing papers. When asked why this had happened, Ms Wong reported that one day she woke up and just could not bring herself to study anymore. She simply had no interest in her work. Like a car that had run out of petrol, she had run out of resources to cope with the constant pressure.

d. Children may not learn independence and self-motivation

Children who are pressured by their parents to perform also tend to be “over-managed” by their parents, meaning that they are told exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Some parents, in the interest of ensuring their child’s success in their studies, may exert too much control over their children’s lives, in spite of the fact that their children are old enough to take more responsibility over their lives.

Ms Lim, 21, from Ipoh, was a model student since she was young, scoring 10 As in her SPM and securing a scholarship to complete a degree in accounting. However when she moved away from her home to KL for her studies, she found she could not cope. She explained that at home, every part of her life had been managed by her mother; what time to get up, when to study, how to study, where to study, how to organize her work schedule. Now that she was alone, she just could not manager her life.

Another danger of over-managing our children is that they may then rely on us as source of motivation and inspiration.

Mr Ravi, whose 22 year old son has just completed his degree in Engineering shares his experience; “My wife and I used to nag and nag my son to study when he was a boy and I think we did a good job of motivating him to work hard in school. However, when he went away for the first time, his results just dropped off. The problem was that he could not motivate himself. Thankfully he eventually learned how to do that in his second year.”

e.  Children have no sense of direction or goals

Sometimes we drive our children to live out our dreams. Sometimes, it is tempting to push our children to achieve the things we failed to achieve ourselves. So we push them and we tell them that they have no excuse to fail because of all the wonderful opportunities, support and freedom they have now. But in reality they have no freedom when we are dictating their life goals.

Mrs Fong, who has a 28 year old son shares her story; “My husband and I always wanted my son to do medicine. He was a top student in school, so we thought he had the ability to get into medical school. We pushed him very hard and he got a place for medicine, but after 3 years he decided to give that up and pursue his real dream which was to study journalism. At that time, we were very upset and disappointed, but when I look at how happy and successful he has become now, I am glad that he finally had the courage to tell us the truth.”

Mrs Fong’s story ended happily, but I can tell you that there are many other stories that have no happy endings. There are many cases where children who have been pushed hard to pursue degrees they have no interest in have just dropped out of college or university. Some have suffered from mental health conditions like depression or have developed eating disorders. Some cut themselves off from their parents because of the bitterness and anger.

Conclusion

As parents we all want our children to grow up to be “successful” young adults. It is important though to be clear minded when we define “success”. Success is more than getting straight A’s, or being top of the class. Academic achievement is not the only thing enables a successful career or a successful life.

I was talking to a friend who heads the Human Resource Department at a major multination in Malaysia and she was telling me that academic performance is no longer the predominant factor in their selection process. Rather, traits like independence, self motivation, critical thinking, creativity, communication skills, emotional intelligence were higher on that list.

Her words are a timely reminder to us as parents that grades don’t mean everything. While we should inspire and encourage our children to take their responsibilities as students seriously, we should not fall into the trap of over-pressuring them to perform in their studies. Rather, we should focus on the holistic and all round development of our children so that they will be well prepared to face the challenges of adult life.