Saturday, September 22, 2012

The world is loud ... but not our guiding force

It could simply be the circles I run in, but it seems as if a huge number of families these days is dealing with at least one child who struggles with anxiety, insecurity, or feelings of being overwhelmed.  My heart aches for these kids...   

These kids that I know are not unloved or unchurched.  They are not neglected.  They are not under-encouraged or ill-prepared.  Their parents are not oblivious or uninvolved.

So why are these young people overwhelmed by their lives?

Kids are kids.  Shouldn't they be playing, laughing, riding bikes, skipping rocks, exploring...enjoying this season of innocence and little responsibility?

But...  When I take a step back and look at the environment our kids are growing up in, I see a great deal of competition.  In everything from sports, to popularity, to exclusive recess clubs, to test scores, to keeping up with the Joneses.  In elementary school!

At lunch this afternoon, I saw a table of moms wearing t-shirts that read, "Playing against our team is hard.  Playing for our team is even harder."

What is the purpose of these shirts?  To intimidate the other team?  [The kids couldn't have been more than 9 years old...  If intimidating them is the goal, the adults should be ashamed.]  To inspire their team to greatness?  [Who wants to play on a team that is HARD to play for ... especially at age nine?]

But, when I read it, I felt like it answered my question.

Why are kids overwhelmed?  Because we've made everything so hard.

So intense.

With our words, we tell them that winning isn't everything.  We tell them that they don't have to BE the best, they just have to TRY their best.  But, when we think the kids aren't listening [or we're out of control], the truth slips out.  The desired outcome for so many is excellence.  To be the very best.  To WIN.

That parent scolding their child from the sidelines because he missed a shot?  That kid's best effort today was not good enough.  The parent [coach] that forced his child to play in tears, then picked him up and carried him off  the field while yelling in his face because he hit the ball well but was thrown out at first because he didn't run hard enough?  That kid's best effort today was not good enough.  The coach who screamed insults and directions at his players and bullied teenaged officials [while parents sat silently] throughout the entire game?  The team's [and officials'] best effort today wasn't good enough.

Even if none of these things have ever happened directly to one of my kids, my kids still saw it.  And the message that winning matters was received loud and clear.  Somehow, in spite of all of the times my husband and I have assured our children that only their very best effort matters, they hear something different from the world, and it overwhelms them.  The world is loud.

And, it doesn't stop at sports.  Our kids are inundated all day every day with having to be the best.  The top speller, reader, writer and mathematician in the classroom.  The best knock-out or kickball player at recess.  The best gift-giver at birthday parties.  The funniest at lunch. The owner of the coolest backpack or skateboard.

Of course most parents don't directly tell their kids that they have to reign supreme in every area of their lives, but what we tolerate from our coaches, and how much of our schedule is dedicated to sports, and the things parents shout from the sidelines, and how we respond to grades and talk about our kids' teachers and school administrators, even how we talk about our neighbors and select birthday gifts and birthday guest lists ... it all writes on their hearts and tells them what matters most.

And I think it overwhelms a lot of kids.  Heck, I think it overwhelms a lot of adults.

Because things have become so intense, so competitive ... we have overwhelmed our schedules with multiple weekly practices and regular season and tournament games - sometimes for more than one sport in a season.  Throw in summer tutors and enrichment work.  And ultra packed social schedules during our limited down time.  And music lessons.  And somehow, in an effort to balance things, we even add in volunteer work and keep up all church commitments. 

And when parents intentionally choose not to over-schedule, there are the down-lookers who seem to be judging us.  There are countless catty comments and unsolicited advice about how we're putting our kids at a competitive disadvantage, sometimes disguised as teasing or simply delivered as a backhanded compliment about how our kids might be able to read, but theirs is a stand-out athlete.  As if we are under-achievers...  And, if I feel like an under-achiever, how must my child feel?

It's a vicious cycle...  It really is no wonder that so many people are overwhelmed, insecure and anxious.  We live in a very busy, competitive world.  And it starts early.

But, it doesn't have to be this hard.  I'm just not sold on the idea that the competition has to be so great at such an early age [or any age].  And I'll never be convinced that ruling ones schedule and crushing their self-esteem is the path to success.

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:2-4

"Let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't."  Romans 12:6 

"Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."  Psalm 105:4

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