Goal obsession, competition, performance pressure, roaring praise, penalties, and time-outs… No, these aren’t the key words for a Google search on professional football. These are methods commonly espoused by “parenting experts” for raising our children.
In Western society, at least, we have inherited an unfortunate stance toward raising children. I can’t imagine how we got here — even looking at the historical data, it makes no sense how — but here we are, the most modern evolution of society in recorded history, raising children and teaching the raising of children as though we were totally alien to the idea. It’s as if the recent generations of the so-called 1st world nations were dropped on the planet completely ignorant of human evolution, and empathy, and children.
Being the adaptive creatures we are, we’ve assimilated as quickly as possible, looking at whatever sources were loudest as to how we should behave. Unfortunately, though, it’s as if the “loudest” parenting experts have all been trained by watching football. They admonish us for being too easy on our children (i.e. “permissive”). They tell us we have to teach discipline, set über-challenging goals, demand absolute compliance and follow-through, reward accomplishment with powerful praise, and punish infractions with disregard. And they are, thoroughly, leading us all astray.
As it turns out, aside from a few scant correlations (like being involved with dirt, physical exertion, and toys), children bear little resemblance to a football team. And in the long run, the methods that work best for raising children into healthy, successful adults have little to do with the ones that seem to work for making a successful football team. And more importantly, trying to raise our children like a winning football team winds up defeating our relationship with them.
The bottom line is that our species is not designed to be raised by behavior modification. Human beings have been carefully fashioned through our development to be reared not “by the rod” or “by the carrot”, but by compassionate, security-inducing bonding and nurturing, the modeling of appropriate behavior, and copious exploration. Tampering with that, especially in favor of football parenting, has caused the majority of the social and psychological issues with which Western society is rife. And if we want our children to become adults with fewer “social issues” (as we politely call them), then we’d do well to remember that we’re dealing with little humans and not a football team, army platoon, or a breed of marauding miscreants in need of being “whipped into shape”.
If we want our children to become fully developed, fully realized, and fulfilled humans, then our best bet is to treat them as if those are our intentions. That means we don’t drive them on toward performance like a pack of dogs. That means we don’t pay them a million dollars for every hour of play, or for every single success. That means we don’t wait on the sidelines to catch them with “consequences” for every minor infraction of “the rules”. We let our methods match our intentions, and remember with whom we really are dealing. That is, we raise humans not with “spring training” methods or with a “boot camp” mentality. We raise humans with our humanity.
Be well, my fellow healthy human-makers.
For some more humane suggestions, look here.