Childhood Killers

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Most parents do everything they can to protect their kids. We set up limits on how far down the street they can go, not wanting them to get too close to the mean dog or the weird old man who owns an Xbox, always gives out candy and drives a windowless van. We try our best to watch what we give them to eat. No matter how different our philosophies may be, all decent parents want to see their kids live a long and healthy life.

We shield our kids from the all too familiar childhood killers but we tend to forget the more subtle threats. These are the threats that may never bring our child’s life to an early end but could very well bring his childhood to an early end.

Here are a few.

1. Your Schedule

More specifically, your schedule for your kids. Children need time to sit in the middle of their room surrounded by more Legos than they can count. But that’s hard to do when they have a baseball game an hour away at 10 a.m. and a piano recital two hours south at 3:00 that same afternoon. And then the same thing tomorrow. Repeat the following weekend.

Our kids are growing up without a lot of the things we had to deal with when we were kids. In my case, that’s a good thing. From early on in my school career, I carried a key in my pocket. When school was out, I used that key to get into my house. And I stayed there by myself until my mom got home. I’m glad that my kids don’t have to do that.

But if we’re not careful, our kids will miss out on a blessing we had. Of course we didn’t think it was a blessing at the time. Boredom. Boredom is important for kids. It forces them to be creative, learn contentment and develop discernment. But if our schedules are overloaded these are lessons that our kids may never learn. And so they grow up and finally reach the point in their lives when every aspect of their day isn’t planned out for them and two things happen. First, they have no idea what to do with themselves during down time. Secondly, they eventually revert to the childhood they never had. This is part of the reason why you see adult men who are fascinated with My Little Pony.

Does your schedule leave room for your kid to be a kid or is your schedule killing his childhood?

2. Athleticism

The 2014 Major League Baseball season hasn’t even started yet and the Atlanta Braves are already leading the league in something – the most pitchers with serious arm injuries. Don Sutton is a Hall of Fame pitcher and a commentator for the Braves. Someone asked him what was up with all of the injuries during spring training. Are the Braves doing something wrong?

His response had more to do with parenting than pitching.

“Kids today are doing too much pitching and not enough playing catch.”

Sutton went on to say that kids today are being treated like tiny major leaguers. In a lot of cases, baseball isn’t a game that they play for fun but a job where they perform for approval. Sutton won 324 games as a pro but he grew up playing catch and working on the farm. Today’s kids are throwing change-ups before they’re potty trained and blowing their arms out a few years later. The fast track to athletic success is a definite childhood killer.

I’m sure it feels pretty good to see your three-year-old throwing nasty curve balls and striking out the side on his travel team. Maybe he’ll get a scholarship. Or even a major league contract. Let’s hope so because I hear that elbow surgery can be pretty expensive.

Are athletics a fun part of your child’s life or have they become a childhood killer?

3. Natural Ability

This can be a good thing. But without a lot of communication, determination and discipline, things can quickly go south.

Calculus may come easy for your daughter. While the rest of the kids in her fourth grade class are struggling with division, she’s busy sneaking in to the local university to anonymously answer nearly impossible math problems left on the chalk board. By all accounts, her future is bright.

Until she goes to college and finds out that there are three people in her class who are better than she is. If she was raised in an environment where her identity is grounded in her mathematical superiority, she is headed for a crisis.

My son’s soccer coach used to play professionally. One day I asked him if it was possible to spot genuine talent at an early age.

“Yes. But it’s rare.”

In so many words, he told me that superiority at the age of 8 isn’t always a good thing. Kids develop differently. When that 8-year-old turns 16 and all of the other kids on his team have had time to grow and work on their skills, there’s a good chance that he won’t be the best player anymore. And then he’ll quit. That’s what my son’s coach sees more often than a natural ability that leads to a professional career.

The issue is identity.

While encouraging your child at what she does well, are you also showing her that her ability and her identity are two different things or are you killing her childhood by teaching her that she is defined by a grade on a test?

We should want our kids to live long and healthy lives. But health involves more than just heart rate, blood count levels and athletic ability. Childhood health also involves sitting in the dirt with your younger brother beside you and nothing on the agenda. It means learning how to fail and succeed. It means knowing that who you are isn’t defined by what you do.

We all want what’s best for our kids. Sometimes the best thing parents can do for kids is also the simplest thing.

Just let them be kids.

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