Child stars and parental pressure
How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again
It's always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go
- Father and Son
by Cat Stevens
On Saturday, June 10 when Jamaica's sprinting legend Usain St Leo Bolt makes his final appearance locally at the Racer's Grand Prix, no doubt many will be wondering who will be able to even attempt to fill his shoes.
His exploits are world renowned and with Jamaica known for 'churning out' athletic talents it is natural for parents of those who are blessed with just a semblance of Bolt's natural ability to encourage it to see just how far it can take them.
However, the reality is that there are children who may have incredible talent and great prowess on the field, but have absolutely no interest in exploring how far that talent could take them.
This can be a bitter pill for parents who dream of seeing their child in the spotlight, bringing glory for the country and for some, no small measure of pride for themselves of course.
For others, it would be the perfect way out to relieve them of the financial responsibility in paying their way through college as a sport scholarship would take care of that.
The need to accomplish these goals can see some parents exerting undue pressure on their children, forcing them to pursue something that their heart and soul is just not in.
Family and Religion reached out to Mikhale Edwards, director of communications and public relations at the National Parenting Support Commission who acknowledged that the business of sport has evolved from a recreational pastime to a multi-billion dollar industry rich with opportunities.
Pointing out that it is quite reasonable to expect parents to cash in, he said among the benefits of student pursuing a sporting discipline is the increase in their confidence level and a promotion in healthy lifestyle.
"Research also indicates that children who play sports are also less likely to become obese and abuse drugs or alcohol. It is understandable for a parent to want their child to have the rich and fulfilling experiences that they never had," he said, sharing that some parents though, want to live vicariously through their children resulting in them (children) being pushed beyond their limits and sometimes even over the edge.
"With the best of intentions, a parent may see sports as a viable option through which their child may pursue a career. However, it is important that a fair assessment is made of the child's talent and level of interest," said Edwards.
To avoid this, Edwards said parents should pay keen attention to 'certain warning signs' that may indicate that their child has no interest to take their talent beyond the boundaries of fun and youthful engagement.
"Is your child willing to train consistently? Are they mentally prepared to undergo the gruelling nature of physical competition? What's the level of engagement with their coach and team mates? All of these are considerations worth examining by a parent," he said.
Edwards said being actively involved in your child's life and keeping the lines of communication open, parents are usually able to make a fair assessment as to whether their child just wants to have fun or desire to develop their talent.
Strike a balance
It can be a challenge for some parents trying to strike a balance between setting high standards and pushing their children too far. According to Edwards, for a parent who is extremely passionate about sports, they may invest a lot emotionally to see their child succeed.
"Nagging your child is never a good form of encouragement. While nagging your child may yield some short term achievements, there may be serious repercussions over the medium to long term," said Edwards.
Parents, according to Edwards, should aim to make sports a fun experience for children. He said instead of critiquing their performances and the results after each game, the focus should be centred around how hard they tried. This method he said, will ensure the building of their confidence and self-esteem and allowing them to realise their effort is appreciated.
Edwards shared some warning signs that some parents may have 'crossed the line' in their reaction to their child's talent.
"While you recognise the achievements of your child through sports, don't become fixated. Even as you cheer on your child during competition, refrain from shouting on the side-lines that your child doesn't get enough playing time, a parent who crosses the line of involvement in their child's sport may become abusive if their child fails to fulfil their expectation. From this abuse, their child may become overly stressesd, develop ways to avoid their parents, and over time may have a drop in confidence and self-esteem."