There's No Pressure Here!

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It’s a sad thing when our children fail in the most important subject we can teach them.

What is the most important subject in school? Is it one of the three "R’s," readin’, writin’ or ‘rithmetic? Important subjects for sure, parents can’t help but be concerned about their children’s mastery of the three"R’s."

Good grades and high SAT test scores open doors to better universities. Graduation from better universities can lead to better job prospects, success, money and a better future for our children and their children. What do you want for your kids? Can’t you just see the 5,000 square foot show home on Elm Street with a wide screen TV in the parlor and a garage packed to the gills with BMWs and jet-skis? We only want the best for them, but is the material world the best way to measure it?

Unfortunately, as test scores on the three "R’s" have plummeted, so alarms have been raised in homes across America. Terrified parents fear… and I shudder at the thought… their children’s failure. Parents pressure the educators, and the educators pressure the kids by trotting out myriad solutions ranging from the desperate to the ludicrous.

As a result everyone is under more pressure. Parental worries force children to have longer hours at school, more homework, summer school classes and tutors. To up the test scores, frantic educators adjust tests to make them easier. But lowered test expectations falsely reflect better education. When did the ends ever justify the means?

Doesn’t the method of achieving a goal describe the value of that goal? What’s a high test grade when the test was a give-away? What’s an A student if he or she is stressed out, alienated or just plain hostile toward the world? What good is opportunity to succeed when it has mutated into all-out pressure to succeed?

Isn’t there enough pressure in our society already? I could be wrong, but I don’t see a lot of what I would call "happy" folk. People these days seem to carry around a lot of repressed anger. They act like pressure cookers about to blow. Some of them do. All too often the stress erupts in the form of heart attacks, strokes, alcoholism, broken homes, road rage… or much, much worse. Must our children bear the brunt of it all? Are they being trained and conditioned to become good, little stressed-out workaholics?

There’s nothing bad about a strong work ethic… up to a point. Work hard! Get ahead! Or… die trying. However, there’s sure a lot wrong with a child pressured to think about nothing but success. Are we so busy with our jobs, our power dinners, golf games or PTA fundraisers that we don’t have time to listen to and play with our kids? How else will our children have the ground rules to apply to real life?

Could it be that the frustration felt by parents is the result of an uphill battle against the unintended consequences of progress? Are you as baffled as I am by the problems of the 21st century? Are the challenges of technology, over-population, diminishing resources, government regulations and taxes and unending wars combining to make you feel pressured? How much of your frustration are you passing on to your children?

Seems to me, the most important thing children need to learn is civilized social interaction… in other words, how to behave. Don’t get me wrong: the three "R’s" are vital, and as are science, history, literature, English, foreign languages, music, art, P.E., etc.

But when you get right down to it, if our little darlings fail to learn how to work and play well together, they will turn out to be obnoxious adults… or troubled loners. Actions have consequences: when little Georgie wrecks young Thomas’s Lego creation, he needs to experience some consequences.

Let’s face it, you are teaching your kids about life and that education goes on 24/7. The example parents set at home will be as valuable, if not more so, as activities inside and outside of school.

Lost to stress and pressure is the importance of play. The time to be a child is when you are a child. That’s when children really learn to interact with their peers. Last time I looked, you only get one chance at it… a fact many grownups choose to ignore.

Our job as parents is not to relentlessly pressure our children to succeed. Our job is to set an example with the self-discipline, morals, and kindness that are the backbone of a productive, honorable, serene life and civilized society. Even as children need to learn the value of hard work, they need to learn how to be content with who they are and what they have.

It’s tough teaching a child to take the rough with the smooth. Attempting to turn our children’s world into a perpetual Disneyland is a one-way ticket to failure. Pressure to be happy all the time can be as detrimental as pressure to succeed.

How many of us have succeeded at being content with ourselves? How many of us are examples of serenity and strength for our children? Are we frustrated with our own lives? Are we pressuring our children to fulfill our fantasies of what we thought we should become? Are we trying to relive our lives through our children… at their expense?

Our children don’t need all that pressure from us. There will be plenty waiting for them down the road. But hey, relax… there’s no pressure here.

Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.

Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.

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