Kids ex­pert Joanne Kates ex­plains why ex­tracur­ric­u­lar choices can of­ten as­sist with more dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to come

The Kids Post - - Contents - JOANNE KATES Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the area of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the direc­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

A mom I know is feel­ing dis­traught about her 15-year-old daugh­ter’s gym­nas­tics. But it could be any ex­tracur­ric­u­lar, it just hap­pens to be gym­nas­tics. This girl has been a ter­rific gym­nast since she first hit the mat at age 5. Coaches saw tal­ent and have been bring­ing her along for 10 years now.

It’s part of the whole fam­ily’s life — train­ing sev­eral times a week, driv­ing to com­pe­ti­tions all over the GTA, watch­ing them, fig­ur­ing out car-pool­ing, get­ting to know the other families. Ev­ery­one as­sumes it’ll keep on like that.

But over the past six months, the girl has been in­creas­ingly stressed about gym­nas­tics. When­ever she loses an event at com­pe­ti­tion, she beats her­self up. If it’s a team event and her team doesn’t win, she says it’s all her fault … and beats her­self up.

I asked the mom if her daugh­ter is having fun with the gym­nas­tics and she said not any more. So I then asked why she’s still do­ing it. The mom’s re­sponse was in­ter­est­ing. She said that her daugh­ter is not aca­demic and that gym­nas­tics is the only way she dis­tin­guishes her­self, it’s her whole iden­tity.

Ahh. Is she in any dan­ger of go­ing to the Olympics? Nope. Is she any­where near fail­ing in school? Also nope.

The mom’s prob­lem is not the same as the daugh­ter’s prob­lem. The daugh­ter’s prob­lem is that some­thing that was once fun is no longer pos­i­tive for her (peo­ple change), but she has no ap­par­ent way out. The mom’s prob­lem is that she sees her daugh­ter as ex­celling in some­thing, and can’t imag­ine her giv­ing up the one thing she ex­cels at, lest they all have to face her be­ing or­di­nary.

But nether of those is the most im­por­tant is­sue.

The cru­cial is­sue here is about choices. The mom as­sumes that this is mostly her choice, be­cause a 15-year-old isn’t ma­ture enough to make such a big choice (quit­ting com­pet­i­tive gym­nas­tics). This is the heart of the mat­ter: the im­por­tant par­ent­ing is­sue here is that this girl badly needs prac­tice at mak­ing choices. Two years from now she’s go­ing to have to make choices that could cause her to pass out in a pool of vomit — or not. Choices about get­ting in a car with a drunk driver — or not. Choices about go­ing to class or not. Choices about us­ing a con­dom or not.

Once at univer­sity (or maybe sooner), she will be faced with po­ten­tially life- threat­en­ing choices, with no par­ents any­where in the vicin­ity to pro­tect her from not be­ing “ma­ture enough” to make im­por­tant choices. If she hasn’t had prac­tice mak­ing im­por­tant choices, we can be pretty sure she’ll make some bad ones, be­cause learn­ing to make good choices is a mat­ter of ex­pe­ri­ence. You don’t learn to make good choices from par­ents or from books. You learn from do­ing.

So what if she doesn’t ex­cel at aca­demics? You know what they call the guy who grad­u­ates at the bot­tom of his med school class? Doc­tor. So what if she quits gym­nas­tics? The con­se­quences of that choice are hardly dire.

But if she is de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to be­gin mak­ing her own choices, the con­se­quences could be dire be­cause she won’t know how to do it when the rub­ber re­ally hits the road. Fif­teen is al­ready late to start prac­tic­ing that. So mom needs to say: “If we pres­sured you to stay with gym­nas­tics, we apol­o­gize. We love you and we trust you to make the best choice for you. What­ever you de­cide is fine by us. This is 100% your choice.” And then shut up.

Pre­pare your child now for the tough life choices that will come

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