Mia from the Princess Diaries and I have a surprising amount in common. We grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we went to schools with uniforms, we have high-maintenance hair, and we're tremendously uncoordinated. I mean really, painfully uncoordinated.
I thought Mia was lucky to only have to tackle gym class. I, on the other hand, was forced to put my lack of skills to the test after school as well, in the form of softball.
I dreaded going on the field every day. I dreaded the missed catches and the embarrassing swings. Therefore, when I read Noah Berlatsky's Atlantic article "Teaching Kids to Quit," about letting kids drop after-school activities they didn't want to do anymore, my initial reaction was, "Yes! Tell parents it's okay for their children to ditch their unwanted sport/hobby/club."
According to Berlatsky, parents tend to discourage kids from giving up on things just because they are bored or they don't like it anymore. This is because our society values and encourages perseverance. However, Berlatsky writes, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to learn about perseverance without forcing them to continue doing something they aren't enjoying. Everyone's childhood is hard in some way already, and there is no need to purposely add more difficulty into the mix. I agree that we should make our kids' lives easier instead of harder. I like the idea of giving children more choices in life and allowing them more freedom. Kids who are feeling overwhelmed by activities – Boy/Girl Scouts and music lessons and dance and lacrosse – should be able to make some choices about what they really want to do, especially as they get older. It breaks my heart to see overly tired kids on their way to school in the morning, and I do think kids need some free time.
However, parents who do let your kids quit when they get bored may not be doing them any favors. Some kids might need more of a push than others to have a well-rounded schedule. If I had been left to my own devices, I would have probably spent way too much time doing a whole lot of nothing, and childhood is prime time to be doing a variety of things during and outside of school. In fact, as an adult, I regret that I didn't do more as a kid when I had the flexibility in my schedule. As much as I dragged my feet getting to softball practice, I made friends, got some much needed physical activity, and, yes, learned plenty about perseverance throughout the years. Playing a sport was actually a requirement at my school, and, while I wanted to argue my way out of it the same way I avoided taking a mandatory public speaking class, my parents encouraged me to stick it out by taking things one day at a time and focusing on the positives. Even though I didn't enjoy actually playing softball, I had to admit I liked getting to travel around the Bay Area and having post-game celebratory snacks with friends. I hope that Berlatsky's article inspires some parents to relax about their children's extracurricular activities, and that parents of kids who need some encouragement continue to help them pursue activities outside of the classroom.
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Image: Cute young baseball player via Shutterstock