Ralph Waldo Emerson urged, "Be not too much a parent." According to some youngsters, that is fine advice. The good intentions of parents can be a burden to children. Some parents are so intent on turning out well-rounded children at any cost (and it costs a great deal these days) that children may resist.
"My parents want me to be well- rounded so I took tennis, swimming, and ski lessons," says Nancy. "A sport for all seasons. I took ballet to get grace, piano to be cultrued. If I get any rounder, I'll roll. I'd like some time to develop some corners of my own -- to talk to people, really talk -- to read a book just for pleasure, not because it's assigned."
Ellie says she sometimes feels like "a product in one of those all purpose detergent commercials."
"I'm an all-purpose person. I do OK at everything and excel at nothing. There's not enough time to be well-rounded and excel, too. I wish I'd had time to get really good at something."
Charlie is a very bright 15-year-old, popular with all his classmates. His father wants more.
"My dad says that all well-adjusted people are involved in sports. I've read biographies of Thomas Edison, Harry Truman, The Wright Brothers. My dad would not have considered Tom and Harry and Orville and Wilbur well-adjusted boys! What I wonder is, if Truman hadm been well- rounded, would he still have been President? And, if Tom Edison had earned letters in sports, would he still have become an inventor?"
A teaching colleague of mine, recalling her husband had been a Little League coach for several years, said that she asked her son, when he was past Little League age, if he missed it.
"Oh, no," Tim confided. "I'd have quit a long time ago, but Dad was enjoying it so much."
Even opportunities do not always been golden to some teens.
"I sometimes wish I didn't have so many opportunities," Barbara admits. "My folks are always telling me to use my opportunities for lessons and groups to join. I feel guilty if I don't. But, if I do and don't enjoy it, I feel guilty about that. I wish I had fewer advantages and more free time."
I was surprised when Scott, a friendly, outgoing 13-year-old, told me one day , "You, know who I envy? Our cleaning lady's kid, Billy."
"He rides over with her on Saturdays when she comes to work. He sits in our porch swing and reads all morning. I'd like to do that. I've never had time to just sit and read in that porch swing. I'm always hurrying past it -- on the way to a lesson or to a soccer game or some practice. And you know what?Billy's smarter than I am and he gets better grades. I wonder if it's because he gets to sit in that porch swing and read and I don't?"
The truth of student comments about parental emphasis on activities strikes me when I see parents of former students and inquire, "How's Mike?" or "How's Kathy?" The response, too often, is a recitation of the young person's activities.
"Mike's busy with student government, plays in the band, has the lead in the school play, and he's on the debate team." Or, "Kathy's working on the school paper, trying out for cheerleader, singing in the glee club."
They don't tell me how their child is, they tell me what he is doingm . There sometimes seems a competition between parents: My child-is busier-than-your-child.
Some students, of course, relish their active, heavily scheduled lives. Others have serious reservations. Some have an uneasy feeling that their parents promote activities so they can bask in the reflected glory of their child's successes.
Alison suspects that her parents encourage activities "so we'll look good on the family Christmas newsletter they send to everyone."
Young people want very much to be loved, valued, and enjoyed for what they are, not for what they do.
Many parents feel they are doing a good job if they take their children places, and if the kids are participating in numerous activities. But youngsters hope for more than that from parents.Closeness is a matter of emotional rapport, not physical proximity.