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Monday, October 13, 2008

Pressure vs. Expectations

Over the past several years, many books have been written about how we as parents and we as a society put too much pressure on kids. I’ve purchased several, read a couple and scanned a few. The world is different these days and kids are under a lot more pressure to perform earlier than we ever were. Pressure to perform at school, on the athletic field and with peers have lead to anxiety, acting out and even suicide. Obviously, too much continuous pressure is not a good thing for anyone.

These days children grow up quicker, they are left alone more often and participate in organized activities sooner. So many kids are in divorce situations, splitting time between two busy and sometimes angry parents. If you think that does not cause pressure think again. My own theory is we expose kids to a lot of different experiences earlier than we ever were. Many of these experiences they are not ready for from a developmental standpoint. In these experiences, I include academics, family problems, dance, music, athletics, competitions, daycare till 5 or 6, organized everything. ( I posted earlier a lot of free play is missing). So typical little Billy, who is having trouble with in full day academic kindergarten (which I strongly oppose as a standard for all), may not be developmentally ready for a full day or even some academics in kindergarten, is now sent for special education testing when probably half the class is not developmentally ready to take on the academic challenges or the stress of a full day away from home.

I am saying earlier experiences have changed but child development has not evolved any differently. So right from the start we put too much pressure on them. I am not convinced that full day kindergarten makes your kid smarter or helps them to read that much earlier. By the way, most kid’s skills tend to catch up with each other by about 4th grade. So even if little Sally’s parents bragged about her reading at 4 she will probably turn out to be just an average student. Her experiences were different, exposed to pre-reading skills earlier and it worked for her. Perhaps, she was even pressured into reading so her parents could brag. I believe a lot of the pressure (but not all) emerges when children are expected to do things they are not developmentally ready to do.

So with pressure to succeed and to fit in especially at the middle school and high school level identified as a problem, the trend has been to decrease the pressure and to get help for kids if needed. Most parents have become aware of creating too much pressure and I think have backed off. However, in the quest to decrease the pressure many parents and teachers have also decreased or eliminated common sense expectations.

So what is the difference between putting on too much pressure on a child and having expectations especially high ones. Pressure, I feel, is pointing your child toward an almost impossible goal. Talking about that goal 27/7 and having their life revolve around that goal. The goal becomes so much of a focus that the kid ends up hating the goal and only does it to please their parents. Kids will also self induce pressure so a parent must keep a close watch on high achievers and intervene when the pressure looks like it’s too much.

Expectations are the day to day rules and the life goals kids are suppose to follow whether a parent or teacher is reminding them or not. At home some expectations might be certain chores, doing homework without being told, going to bed at the proper time, preparing your self for school or other activities, doing your best at school, being kind to others, not bullying, speaking politely to adults, following the rules at school and other activities, telling parents important information, behaving yourself in public especially when unsupervised……the list of common sense expectations go on an on. Some of the expectations at school include being respectful to others, listening to adults, coming prepared to class, not throwing trash on the floor, following school routines without always having to be told to get moving, doing your work, working cooperatively, controlling anger, no bullying…..again the list is endless.

As my own children have gotten older, our expectations have changed and increased. We expect them to perform to the best of their ability at school. We expect them to put effort into extracurricular activities, volunteer activities and work. Our biggest expectation is that they will not drink especially if they are driving our car. Does that assure me they won’t? Of course not. But, they also know we do everything in our power to make sure that does not happen. They know we call parents to see if anyone is going to be home and we check their breath when they come in. They know there will be consequences at home for inappropriate behavior. They’ve missed a lot of parties because of our actions and I might add missed the near-death experience of a friend from too much alcohol.

I worked with a middle school teacher once, Mary we’ll call her. Mary called me naive to think my own middle school kids were not exposed to sex, drugs and alcohol. Mary implied that my kids probably were experimenting with all three. It is not that I don’t know those thing are out there but my expectations to my own children is that we do not want you around that kind of stuff or indulging in it. Needless to say, while Mary was spouting this to me, I knew that she had a couple of very wild teenage daughters at home. I assume she thought that because her girls indulged that that had to be the norm. See she was willing to accept their behavior as normal teenage behavior rather than tell them her expectations for behavior.

Kids with no expectations flounder, both at school and in their social lives. They tend to also grow up with an inappropriate sense of entitlement…. The ”I don’t have to do that” attitude. They goof around in school and disrupt things for others. Most of them know that their parents will not do anything if the teacher calls home. Parents seem to be too busy sticking up for their child’s bad behavior rather than giving them clear expectations for conduct. Some parents clearly do not care and I have to wonder about that. I see so many kids without clear life expectations and wonder what they will be doing in 10 years.

Teachers can provide clear expectations at school. However, if the parental expectations and follow up is not there it is almost impossible for the child to succeed to their potential. It is the rare student that can see school as their ticket to success and that can generate self expectations.

So parents, talk to your child. Let them know your expectations for them at home, at school and out in public . Be the parent you need to be and don’t let them run the house or make up the rules. Point out inappropriate behavior even if it is just little etiquette things. If there is a problem don’t make excuses for them, follow up with appropriate consequences. Basic expectations are life long lessons that will serve them well long after they leave the classroom.

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