Sunday, September 6, 2009

Overachieving Children - Should We Stop Them?

I've been seeing quite a few of these news items lately, and it makes me wonder: should we stifle overachievers? Is it dangerous for them to work so long and hard on a goal which may be their own, or may have been driven by coaches who the children respect so greatly.

As a swimmer, I don't see a problem with 9-year-old Shristi Singh's 16 hours swim to set a world record. She was in a controlled environment - a heated pool with walls and a crowd and lighting. She'd been training for it and, honestly, any young swimmer worth her salt can swim endlessly by this age. Think about the energy kids expend running the streets, running in parks, running up and down their halls. Once you master swimming, it's really floating with some propulsion. She didn't have to swim at max speed; just had to keep moving forward. And at every wall, she got a boost from her pushoff. Did she do open turns? That gives her a breather at every wall - a rest however short every 30 seconds or less.

Then there's 13-year-old Laura Dekker who hopes to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Dutch courts have taken her into custody to protect her from her dream. She was born on a sailboat and spent her first four years on the ocean. She's been sailing solo since she was 10. I'd be terrified for my child if, at 13, she wanted to circumnavigate the globe alone. So many things could go wrong. And parents want to protect their children as long as possible. But in this case, it's not her parents trying to stop her (though media report they initially did try to discourage her, they're behind her now). It's government.

There are other recent world-record breaking children. Should swimming or sailing be disallowed when wing walking by an 8 year old or 10-year-old bull fighter (though he won't be recognized by Guiness). And why celebrate the world's fattest child (322 pounds at age 9)?

Who should determine when a child's goals are too dangerous? Who is responsible for the children? Parents or government? And why is it we celebrate obesity when human achievement is shoved to the wayside?

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. Our limits of what kinds of interests children are allowed to pursue are indeed defined by our culture and fears.

    This makes me think of video games, in particular.


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