The woman was sitting on the bleacher looking down at all the kids in their swimming costumes, ready and jittery for the event to start. The anxiety and anticipation hung heavy in the summer sky. The kids were chatting excitedly, non-stop in the bottom two rows, all looking exactly the same with their bright orange swimming caps.
Then she saw it. At first she thought it was just nerves, but then it happened again and again and again. In the first row, one of the star pupils of the team developed a twitch. Not just a nervous shudder, it was like she was connected to an invisible electrical outlet and someone was playing with the power supply. The woman tactfully shared her observation with the mother, whom seemed oblivious to the condition. After medical consultation sometime later, this condition was confirmed to be the result of stress. The girl in question was 7 at the time.
A man was walking along the beach during an annual summer break, hoping to catch the sunrise. Three people were exercising on the beach, sprinting along a marked area just beyond the water line. The two coaches, who stood on opposite ends of the marked track, were really pushing them hard, forcing them to run up and down. The athletes were not enjoying this gruelling session so early in the morning. The man really felt sorry for the three, but decided to mind his own business and strolled away. Half an hour later when he returned to the same stretch of beach, the athletes were still sprinting, obviously exhausted, driven by two shouting, threatening coaches. The athletes were between the ages of 8 and 14 and the coaches were their parents.
These are two examples of parents are employing the dream effect. It is a term I use to describe the sad situation when parents enforce their own hopes and dreams onto their children. It is when parents confuse the dreams and aspiration of their children with their own. You have two types.
The first version of the dream effect is when the parent was a successful scholar or athlete or musician, and thus becoming a parent; drives their children to be the same, most of the time totally oblivious of the required talent, or even worse, ignorant of the kid’s own desire for wanting to learn to play the friggin violin.
The second version of the dream effect is when parents who were not successful in reaching specific goals they set for themselves growing up, now as parents, use their kids to reach those goals and claim the blue ribbon. Again without consideration or acknowledgement of what the kids own dreams, desires or goals are.
We see this often, where parents either forces their kids to do every single activity that is on offer, resulting in case # 1 or other parents realising their kids has some potential talent for a specific activity and then pushing their kids to the edge of insanity to pursue optimum success in the chosen field, case #2.
Don’t get me wrong, if your kid is good in soccer, motivate him to reach his full potential, teach him to never quit and be the best that he can be. But accept that your prodigy might not be the next Lionel Messi and don’t allow your own dreams to cloud and later consume the aspirations of your own kid.
We like to think we know what is best for our kids, we like to think the choices we make only benefits them. How many times do we stop and consider the truth of our actions? I saw an episode of The New life of Old Christine once, where this exact situation was brilliantly portrayed. Unfortunately not all kids live in a sitcoms, where the characters learn a life lesson, correct their error, reconcile and move on; all in the space of 25 minutes.
There is nothing funny about a little girl who has started twitching at the age of 7 due to stress, or seeing a 9-year-old boy crying on the beach because he cannot do another sprint on the sandy shore at 6 in the morning.
I feel so strong about this issue, that I believe that when parents employ the dream effect, it is border line child abuse.
Kids should explore, experience new things. They are individuals with their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes and their own talents and interests. They should be allowed to discover those at their own time. Kids should be loved, cherished, fed, guided and supported.
A parent’s dream should be to have a happy, healthy, loving, all rounded, laughing children, who loves life, have a positive attitude and grows up to be a well-rounded adult. A parent’s dream cannot be for their kids to achieve the same things they did or even worse the things they didn’t.