Today’s blog post comes with a thick, heavy ounce of frustration as the power has been out at our home since about 6:30 this morning. We are currently sitting at a local fast-food eatery while my 4-year old indulges in a play structure and I stuff my visage with calorie-rich foods (only because we can’t make breakfast at home, of course!) But I digress…
One of the many benefits of being in martial arts for many decades is that I have been able to see many generations walk through the doors. Believe me when I say that students come in all shapes and sizes, walks of life and backgrounds. A good number of them have been children, and for a brief period in 2007, I actually had a “kids'” school of karate. It was there that I learned how hard some parents push their children. And this is coming from a karate instructor!
Martial arts has always been a passion for me, ever since I saw “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee in 1982. This was further compounded by a ninja-based television series I used to watch called “The Master”, which started airing in the early 1980’s. I was never much of a team sport kind of kid, especially with all the difficulties that came from Diabetes at a young age. Needless to say, my parents didn’t have to encourage me to stay in karate. In fact, they didn’t even know I was practicing it for the first few years!
But to any casual observer watching a class, one thing is immediately obvious: some want to be there; some do not!
When I was teaching my students, one of the deepest lessons I tried to teach was honesty. I made a point of telling them that if they were unable to tell the truth, they would ultimately be unable to properly learn martial arts. This was driven home for me one day when I noticed a pre-teen student who was rather phoning it in during his workouts. This had been his general attitude for a number of weeks and I decided it was time to discuss it with him. I had the opportunity to sit him down after class and I asked him outright if he wanted to be in karate. I was somewhat taken aback when his immediate and unrehearsed response was a firm “no”. When I asked him why he was still coming to class when he didn’t want to be there, he explained that his parents were making him attend.
The following week before class started, I had the opportunity to speak with this young boy’s parents, who told me that they wanted their child to be involved in a sport to learn discipline and get in shape, and that he would remain in the class whether he wanted to or not!
Were they right? This is a fine line, folks. And if I’m being honest, as an instructor and a practitioner, I have to say that if you’re trying to teach your child a lesson by forcing them into something that isn’t a requirement to keep them alive and well, you’re teaching them the wrong lesson.
Here’s the thing: It’s important for kids to get into something. Although it is EXTREMELY important for kids to learnt to self-entertain, they also need to learn some of the basic socialization skills that are required to be carried into adulthood. Sports and leisure activities outside of school help teach this, but it also helps to instil a sense of commitment and accomplishment in a way that they won’t learn otherwise. But how far should we push this point if the kid really doesn’t want to keep doing it?
As part of the lessons about commitment and accomplishment, there are a number of factors to bear in mind. If the child has chosen the activity in question, and money has been provided to allow them to do so, then it becomes important for them to understand that they should stick with it and finish what they’ve started, especially since the family and household have sacrificed to make it so. There’s nothing wrong with them choosing something else once this commitment has been fulfilled. However, if the parent has chosen the activity and are actively forcing the child to stay with it, they may be doing more harm than good.
The other side of the coin is that if you decide to be a progressive parent and allow the child to quit, you may be teaching them that it’s okay to drop something once it becomes boring or played out. And in today’s world of electronically fuelled entertainment, that’s a slippery slope indeed.
Ultimately, I ended up “kicking” the young boy out. I had a talk with him and explained that if he genuinely didn’t want to stay with karate, he was damaging the class by only putting half the effort in. I told him he should talk with his parents and try to choose something that would suit him and make him happy. He was grateful. His parents were not. They didn’t understand that by having a child who didn’t put in the effort, he was damaging the energy and drive of the class, as younger students saw him basically phoning it in and thought this was okay.
And this is the unspoken side of this issue: kids who don’t want to be there will cause certain damage to the school and the goal it’s trying to reach with the children. I would recommend that if your child hasn’t chosen the intended sport or activity, maybe talk with them and see what they would like to do. This will insure a better chance of having them stick with it.
Last but not least, I should point out that every situation and child involved is different. What works for one parent and child may not work for the other. Although we want our kids learning important values such as commitment, dedication and seeing things through, we have to be careful to maintain the balance with respecting their rights and helping them reach THEIR goals.