My nine-year-old son didn’t come to me when he had made his mind up that he wanted to quit karate.  Instead, he enlisted the services of his mother to convince me that it was OK to walk away after nearly three years.  When I finally sat down with him to talk about it, all he kept saying to me was “I know you are disappointed in me”; however, that could not be further from the truth.  I spent the better part of my childhood playing soccer two to three hours a day, seven days a week, so I know what it means to be committed to one activity, but I also appreciate what I had to give up to be successful as a player.  As both an athlete and a coach, I have seen what can happen when parents push children too hard.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating quitting, but there is a big difference between failing to follow through with a commitment and staying committed to something that fails to inspire.  Many parents today are so focused on raising a prodigy that they are blind to all the warning signs of burnout.  In many cases, those parents are driven by fear- fear of the unknown.  More and more parents today wonder how they will ever be able to afford college, and, because of that, they push their kids into activities that they perceive will be beneficial when it comes time for them to apply to college.  Unfortunately, what many of those parents succeed in doing is stunting the growth of their children.

Leave Them Free to Explore Extracurricular Choices

Now more than ever, colleges are looking for students who have a strong sense of self-worth and a greater understanding of their place in society.  In order to achieve these self-actualized goals, students need to be free to explore and, gasp, to fail.  This is not a very popular concept for helicopter parents, who try their best to make sure their kids never fail at anything; however, it can be very liberating for students.  Giving your child the freedom to try new things, even things he or she may not be very good at could be the greatest gift you give your son or daughter.

Passion follows through

Very few students will be able to point to one extracurricular activity as the deciding admissions factor.  In the absence of a world-class 40 time or national acclaim in the arts, students need to focus more on finding those activities about which they feel passionate.  What I had to come to terms with when it came to my son and karate is that the passion just wasn’t there.  It’s easy for parents to see things in terms of cost and effort and lose sight of the real benefit.  Rather than focus on the money we paid in lessons and equipment or the countless hours spent on the road shuttling him to and from tournaments, I chose to see my son’s time in karate for the growth experience it has been.  Passion is not something that can be forced or artificially manipulated with the right high-priced coach.  The best thing you can do is encourage your child to get involved in a variety of activities.  This participation, while it may not result in an athletic scholarship, could very well contribute to a greater sense of self-worth; and, no price can be placed on that education.

Win the battle but lose the war?

I have seen too many students grind away to get into the college that they think will make them happy, only to end up transferring, or worse yet, flunking out after one year.  If getting into the right college is the sole driving force behind the extracurricular activities you encourage your child to participate in, you may be driving your child towards a dead end.  I constantly have to remind many of the parents of the students I work with that they are not the ones going to college.  While it is easy to get caught up chasing the collegiate goal, the healthier goal to focus on is the happiness of your child.  My experience has taught me that those happy, well-adjusted students succeed at a much higher level at not only selecting the right college but also excelling in that school once they get there.  If you push your child too hard to win the college admissions battle, the victory may prove to be a Pyrrhic one.

  • Are you a parent ‘guilty’ of pushing your child into extracurricular activities they might not be enjoying?
  • Are you a teenager who’s being pushed by your parents?

Use this piece as a conversation starter and move towards a solution you are all happy with! Ask your college consultant to mediate if need be.  I wish you much success.

Christopher Parsons