My adorable niece just wouldn’t let me be; uncle I started piano lessons, can I play for you? And after that it was a demonstration of karate chops. Then a recitation of rules for swimmers. Then the mysterious Galileo’s club (a 2 hr fortnightly science discovery/mentorship romp for kids). And yes the Hausa lessons with Aliu.
Isn’t it too much, I asked my sister. My sister shrugged, she has too much energy, it’s just as well. Her dad joked, “We’d be happy if you can take her with you, otherwise this arrangement suits us fine”. But then I suppose this is the life of the typical middle-class child in today’s world. The well heeled could afford even more and the less heeled of course have fewer options, but even they (the less heeled) spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on these kiddie lessons and what-have-you. Parents worry if they don’t spend on extras; their kids will miss out on opportunities and get behind in life. A colleague said to me, look the average kid is so knowledgeable these days; your child wouldn’t forgive you for anything less!
So should parents be miserly in spending for their kids? Heavens forbid! But spending sensibly is, well, sensible! A key question we need to ask in this age is: is it for you or the kids? Nobody wants a dull child, but a hyperactive child is also somewhat a challenge for parents, especially professional parents. So do we push our children to these activities to give us time to breathe? Do we wish they could grow up on time, pass exams in flying colours and leave home for college/high school when really; they should be kids and learn growing up as due under our nose?
Spending half your life’s savings on a child’s extracurricular doesn’t necessarily bring you (or the child) joy. My dad bought a piano for my mum when we were kids, but he was really hoping we could latch on and later on learn how to play ourselves. By the time I turned 16, my mum gave the piano over to a new church that my parent church founded, especially as none of us kids could play a note! So let’s ask ourselves again, who it’s for? Joanna Nesbit, writing for MNN, says “Statistically, 70 percent of American kids quit sports by 13, because it stops being fun. Do we really want to ruin sports for our kids? Or kill their love of music with tiger-style practicing requirements? Graff isn’t saying don’t pay for piano lessons, but do keep it light while they’re little. Let them be kids and avoid raising narcissists”. Joanna herself reviewed the work of Brett Graff, a financial writer and author.
So taking a cue form Nesbit and Graff, are parents of this age making childhood less of fun and more of a chore for kids? I personally don’t support i-Pads for children in place of toys, all geared towards having that smart kid the world admires! Whatever happened to bicycle races at the park, Stories (Enid Blyton, and closer home, kiddie books such as ones my generation read, like Akin goes to school, Eze goes to school, one week one trouble), kids’ camps etc? Most Kids these days are so insulated from day to day reality and more in tune with the world of computer games and electronic gadgets! When they do interact with other kids outside school, it largely, still is in an academic like setting. Whatever happened to fun? I suggested to my sister and her husband that my niece enjoys her Hausa lessons more than her piano lessons. And the reason isn’t difficult to deduce. The neighbour’s security detail; Aliu is of the hausa ethnic group, so while “catching the evening air”, my niece sits on her dad’s knee while friendly Aliu gives language lessons in an informal setting.
So should my niece stop her piano lessons? That may not be for me to say! But if she doesn’t enjoy it, why bother? She’s just 5 years! Quoting Nesbit again: “Graff’s goal isn’t to stop us from spending on our kids; it’s to help us drown out the cultural noise and simmer down our anxiety to become intentional and informed about what we do spend. Our kids will be better off for it, emotionally, psychologically and financially”.
More importantly, we needn’t overspend on our kids to suit our own myopic goals of smarter children who become like adults early on, leaving parents to chart unencumbered, varied lifestyles besides. Parents need to be parents again! Some parents give kids I-pads because they think it makes the parent look good or they don’t want their kid to feel bad because they don’t have something someone else has. They put them in various extracurricular so they don’t bother them or so they can be a star, and make them look good as parents. When spending as parents, I think we shouldn’t let kids feel ungrateful for something they should be grateful for! When we sacrifice for our kids, it is important they know so they can grow up to be thoughtful adults. So many times, it may simply be, just trying to keep up with the Joneses, which is emotionally exhausting and can have far-reaching consequences on the family’s financial health.
Personally, I don’t have a liking for reality shows. I even dislike it more when it encourages kids to perform at shows leading to instant fame, which will most often derail academic pursuit. But what do you say to parents who go to extreme lengths to get their children to succeed in these pursuits, even to the point of some conduct which is very unbecoming! So much emotional and financial investment is often wasted plying such causes! Talent ought to be celebrated, but even more, at their level, kids need to realize talent is an opportunity not an undue advantage. That realization will produce responsible wholesome adults. Talent shows for kids nowadays are often far from starring in the school drama or taking the solo piece at the community choir festival. Rather they have become egocentric in nature.
I think kids should be allowed to be kids. It is a stage they should look back on with nostalgia when they become adults and should prepare them to offer same happier upbringing for their own kids. My niece recently showed signs of weariness with her taekwondo lessons. Her mother was paying a fortune so she threatened not to renew her membership of the taekwondo club. Like today’s kids, my niece didn’t miss a beat, she said,” Mummy it’s not like I don’t like taekwondo, but I prefer the girls guide practice on Saturday better!”. Ungrateful kid, her mother murmured. I remarked the little girl’s alternative to taekwondo was free! And it made her happier. My sister had to agree, but her Daddy would have to do the girls guild Saturday shuttle. Oh thank you mummy, I love you! My niece gushed. Now tell me, deep deep down, isn’t that what we really want to hear our kids say, every single time?!