I recently met a family on a road trip who epitomizes today’s society.
- Their three children are the center of their lives.
- They spend most of their money to resource those children.
- Both screens and sports occupy the majority of their time.
Because they have some discretionary income, they have built a literal sports complex at the house to enable their kids to excel at a sport of their choice.
One might assume this is the ideal home for a kid.
The Trend We See Today
There are a growing number of wealthy parents who “build quasi-professional sports facilities at their homes—in some cases because they believe their children have the potential to become college or professional players and they want to do everything they can to help them get there. While tennis courts and swimming pools have long been de rigueur in high-end real estate, more families are building gyms, rinks and courts to help advance their child-athlete’s aspirations,” reports The Wall Street Journal. So many parents are committed to give their children every possible advantage in life, they go to extreme measures to make it happen.
- They retain a personal trainer for their child.
- They build facilities, so their kid can play well into the evening.
- They involve their kids in club sports outside of school.
- They subscribe to apps and periodicals to provide them the inside scoop.
So far, so good.
The problem lies in what message is communicated to our youth along the way. The message parents mean to send is simple:
“We believe in you and will spare no expense to develop your talent on behalf of the sport you love most.”
The real issue is—we are a generation of extremes. Parents intend to do what’s best for the kids, but we’re frequently clueless as to how to develop them into emotionally healthy young people. We tend to think: if a little is good—more is better. So we spend time, money and emotional energy on a single category, not realizing the harm it is doing to our children along the way. Consider today’s reality:
Katy McLaughlin writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Youth sports facilities spending in the U.S. and Canada hit $3.6 billion in 2017, with $320 million of that spent on private facilities in private homes and residential communities, according to WinterGreen Research, a market-research firm in Lexington, Mass.”
The Fine Line Between Excellence and Obsession
I believe there is a fine line between the healthy and the unhealthy. Excellence is a healthy goal—to excel and exceed previous performances. Obsession is unhealthy. When obsession occurs, that goal begins to harm us; we become emotionally unhealthy people who cannot engage well in other categories of our lives. We begin to draw wrong conclusions about the one category we’ve become obsessed with—whether or not we are aware of it. Parents mean well when they build complexes for their kids, but what messages do kids receive from it? What conclusions do they draw from our words and actions?
What Conclusions Do Kids Draw From Our Messaging?
1. “I better come through for my dad or mom. They’ve spent all this money on me and this sport, so I dare not fail them.” Consequently, kids experience FOMU: Fear Of Messing Up. The pressure (at young ages) to be perfect is unhealthy. I know NCAA coaches who recruit multiple sport athletes because they’re emotionally healthier students.
2. “I’m the center of our family’s universe. After all, look what they spend their time on: me.” While this may feel good for a while, I believe kids are healthiest when they play an appropriate role in the family, not center stage. People become narcissistic when positioned early on as the “star.”
3. “I should not tell them I am ‘burning out’ on this sport, because they spent so much getting me to the top of it. I’ll just keep my mouth shut, and soon they’ll have to push me into practices and competition.” This happens too often—a kid plays soccer or tennis by age five and burns out by age 13.
4. “I dare not let them know I miss my childhood. Deep down, I want to do the things that other kids do, but my dad has me on this fast track to be the next Serena Williams or Bryce Harper.” This often makes young men remain boys at 27 years old—they never got to be a kid when it was time to be a kid.
So, what’s the answer?
While I applaud parents’ desire to give their child every break possible, we must be emotionally balanced people. Often times, we are merely living out our unlived life through our children. It’s our obsession more than theirs. Sadly, the kids are the victims of our unhealthy condition. What if we cheered our children on as they participate in sports, or theatre or other activities—but let them be kids, and explore various options as they grow up? What if we let them decide their interests but remember that we must lead our families into balanced lifestyles?