Monday 26 September 2016

Our children are put under too much pressure to succeed

Published 25/06/2015 | 02:30

'Children are growing up in a culture that is obsessed with grades'
'Children are growing up in a culture that is obsessed with grades'

Forget about a career in teaching, the holidays might be good but you'll never earn over €300 an hour. A much more profitable career path has become available - nursery consultant.

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Nursery consultants' fees start at €300 an hour and the consultants are in high demand. The consultants target money-rich, time-poor parents who want their children's educational path to begin at two years of age and to finish in a top university with first-class honours. A good nursery is considered the first step on the road to success. Some nurseries focus on teaching the toddlers eye contact and a firm handshake which will then help them move onto the next stage of their career ladder - getting into a good pre-school.

Sabine Hook, a former teacher who has now moved into the more lucrative nursery consultant business, was told by one father that Cambridge university then Deutsche Bank was the future he had mapped out for his six-month-old son.

Gone are the days of children crawling in and out of cardboard boxes or gleefully banging pots on the kitchen floor. Nowadays, a child's education starts in the womb. Unborn babies are a captive (or one could say captured) audience as their ambitious parents play them hours of classic music per day.

Once the poor child is born, it's straight from the delivery room to flashcards, swimming, yoga, art classes, music appreciation . . . the list is endless and the poor children are exhausted.

But even the most sensible, level-headed parents can find themselves getting caught up in the frenzy of 'keeping up'. The herd mentality and peer pressure can get to even the most balanced parents.

We used to wonder at the Chinese parents who focused so heavily on education from such an early age and now we are overtaking them in our obsession with exam results.

A generation ago getting private grinds was the preserve of a small number of privileged children whose parents could afford it. But now it's an epidemic. It's almost more unusual not to get grinds these days.

More than 50pc of Irish Junior Cert students, aged 15 or 16, are taking private grinds costing about €40 per hour.

A recent survey showed that the "grinds culture" continues to exert a huge influence in second-level education in Ireland; more than 60pc of Leaving Cert students are also taking grinds.

It is now dripping down into primary school with a big increase in younger children getting grinds, particularly in Maths.

But how is all this pressure affecting the children? Are we producing wonder kids and world leaders? It seems not, as levels of anxiety and depression in children are on the rise. Children feel they are letting their parents down if they don't do well in exams. The pressure to succeed is weighing heavily on our young people's shoulders. But let's not blame the parents completely. The world in general has become a more competitive place. Children are growing up in a culture that is obsessed with grades. Schools want good results too. They push the children to do well so they can improve their status and move up on the educational leader board. Pressure is coming at children from all sides. And it's not just educational aspirations that are a problem. Parents also have high expectations when it comes to sport. They want their children to do well on the playing field as well as in the classroom.

Saturday morning football matches are no longer filled with parents bantering on the sideline. Ambition, aggression and occasionally violence are now part of the sideline action.

In fact, things have got so bad with parents effing and blinding at their children, their children's teammates and the referees that last year, Irish sports clubs around the country introduced a 'Silent Sideline Weekend'. Parents were allowed to applaud but verbal communication of any kind was forbidden.

Inspired by similar initiatives in the US and England, the campaign was designed as an antidote to what former footballer and commentator Gary Lineker termed the "bile and nonsense parents spout" at kids' games.

An under-eight friendly match is essentially a playground. They don't need to listen to abuse from the sidelines. If parents acted in the same way in a real playground, the guards would be called.

Rob Connell, children's officer with Trim Celtic, has seen kids vomit on the sideline due to parental pressure.

Perhaps it's the parents who need to go to grinds to be reminded of what it's like to be a child and how you like to have time to just relax and do nothing. Parents need to remember how they liked being cheered on from the sidelines of a match, not screamed at for missing a ball. Let us not forget the sinking feeling of not doing well in an exam and how a shoulder to cry on is more effective than being told you're useless and you'll be having double grinds next year. Childhood passes in the blink of an eye. Our children will be weighed down with the responsibilities of adulthood soon enough. Let them enjoy their youth without crippling them with too many demands.

Irish Independent

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