Today's parents are stressed out about their children's academic success and believe starting early is the key to achievement, according to a new poll.
In fact, 54 percent of parents of children aged 2 to 5 said they had anxiety about their child's academic performance and 38 percent felt that their child was in competition with other kids. The new findings come from a telephone poll of about 1,000 parents of children aged 2 to 11 conducted in July 2006 by the National Parent and Teachers Association (PTA) in New York City, and the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) Parents.
More than 90 percent of all parents polled said that they believe that starting early to prepare their children for academic success is key. When the findings were broken down by income status, low-income families had significantly greater concerns about education and were three times more likely to think that they are not as able to help their child prepare for school as their richer counterparts.
"Parents need to be very careful about how they pick their priorities in attempting to raise successful kids," warns Michael J. Bradley, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Feasterville, Pa., and the author of several books including Yes,Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid without Losing Your Mind. "Our goal is not to raise an Ivy League student, our goal is to raise the future parents of our grandchildren."
Close to 80 percent of all parents polled said that they think parents today do overschedule their children with extracurricular activities, but only one in eight think their own child is overscheduled. What's more, two of three parents are satisfied with their child's schedule.
"You have to decide what success means for your child," Bradley tells WebMD. "For your neighbors’ kids, maybe it is six activities a day," he tells WebMD. "Sometimes you have to get your blinders on."
Structured vs. Unstructured Activities
Many parents often feel that structured activities -- whether swimming or ballet -- are the key to success, but the science says otherwise, he says. The learning that comes from unstructured activities may exceed the type of learning that children get from structured activities.
In Bradley's list of the top five priorities for children, such activities are the least important.
"Don’t make the assumption that all kids should be in as many activities as possible," he says.
Grades, too, rank low on his list. "If we go to war with our kids over grades and push them too far, it can be a battle won, but a war lost." More important than activities and grades are your child's heart, character, relationships, and his or her sense of identity.
Being a Role Model
"In the game of parenting, it's not about the length of his hair, it’s about his heart," Bradley says.
Set good examples, he says. "If you want a kid to be caring and compassionate, what are you showing them?"
Darrel Andrews, a motivational speaker and father of three kids in Bear, Del., agrees. He said that the best way to raise successful children is to be a good role model. "Before kids started to idolize actors and entertainers, they were walking around in our shoes," he says.
"Your children need to see you as an example of the educational values you expect from them," he says. In the poll, 88 percent of parents trust that their kids will get a good education, but 95 percent reported feeling responsible for continuing their child's education at home. Make sure your kids see you reading books and newspapers, Andrews suggests. "Set the bar high."
By Denise Mann, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
SOURCES: PTA Back-to-School Media Briefing, Aug. 10, 2006. Michael Bradley, PhD, clinical psychologist, Feasterville, Pa.; author, Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! Loving Your Kid without Losing Your Mind. Darrel Andrews, motivational speaker.