Adding a Helping of Heritage on a Full Plate (Part 3 – Stuffing your kid’s Plate)

While I was taking Number One Son to the emergency room, I felt like the worst parent in the world…

In what activities should we push our children? How hard? Why do we push them? These are all questions that came to mind after reading this article.

Ms. Liu wanted Chris to take violin lessons and two months ago started him on the Suzuki method, pioneered in Japan for young children. She thought it might be another opportunity to meet Asian-American children, but that has not happened. “The other Asian kids, they’re more advanced — I think they started younger,” she said.


In this spirit, she’s also started Chris on karate and tennis lessons. “I know it sounds ridiculous,” she said, “but golf, too — he starts tomorrow.”

One of the 8asians bloggers pointed out how some Asian American parents seem to push their kid’s activities as a way to earn bragging points. What ever happened to teaching music as a way to teach a love of culture and art? What happened to sports as a way to teach a love of physical activity and exercise? From my perspective, parents often have multiple motivations, some good and some bad. There are definitely some Asian-American parents who push force these activities as a way to brag about their children or to live vicariously through their children.

My own motivations are pretty varied. My kids do sports so they can be active and can learn to love physical activity and know how to physically train. I have to admit that I like to see them do well and am proud when they do well. Same with music – I am having them learn so they can appreciate music, but I also like to see them do well and be proud of them. That’s simply part of being a parent — wanting your kids to do things you can be proud of. I do draw the line at being boastful and bragging to everyone. That’s a poor reason to push one’s children to do activities, and some of the worst bores are parents who brag endlessly about their children. Another motivation, which Ms Chung seems to follow, is to expose her child to a variety of activities and see what sticks.

One motivation for having getting children active in sports, music, and other activities is for acceptance into highly regarded academic institutions. That is definitely one of my motivations. Many Asian American parents have figured out that you can’t get in the more elite colleges or high schools (yes, I did say high schools) on just grades and test scores – having a variety of activities and being “well rounded” is critical. Having that as the sole reason for joining something does seem pretty shallow. Often coaches and other participants pick up on that and resent it. I remember a fellow volleyball coach I knew was really annoyed when many girls joined his team one year simply, as he said, so that they could put volleyball on their high school applications. Definitely decreased the quality of his team, and I sensed that he thought that it was unfair to the girls who were on the team for the previous years.

A key issue is how hard to push. Pushing too little and pushing too hard both have their downsides, and children are different. With The Daughter, I regret not pushing hard enough in sports. I taught her to throw, catch, and hit, but she never was motivated enough to join her middle school softball team. That is something she now regrets. I also regret not getting her in to club volleyball when she was younger. She liked playing volleyball, but if you don’t join club teams early enough, it is almost impossible to get into a club during 8th grade, and at most of the private high schools in my areas, you aren’t going to get on a team unless you have club volleyball experience.

Pushing too hard has its downsides too. Number One son wanted to try out Little League, and so went to a few practices. His overzealous dad wanted him to practice some more, and pushed him to practice. While we were playing catch, he missed the ball and got hit in the eye. The Wife was furious with me, and it was off to the emergency room, with me feeling like the worst parent on the planet. He never again wanted to do baseball, and learning my lesson, and I didn’t push it any more. He did find sports he liked (without any pushing), and now does three sports a year – flag football, basketball, and volleyball (I coach this team). I tried to push him into track when I was coaching track, but he really resisted that idea so I let him quit. Three sports a year is more than enough.

Sometimes there is a tipping point where skill in an activity reaches a point where the activity becomes interesting enough where you don’t have to push much. With The Daughter, I had to push her to practice piano for the longest time until she saw Titanic and she got the music to “My Heart Will Go On.” While it was excruciating to hear that song over and over again ad nauseum (my nausea not hers), I didn’t have to push her to practice, especially when her teacher, seeing her interest, started teaching some of those more popular songs. In addition to not pushing less, I think she truly enjoys music now that she can play more popular songs. Number Two Son was interested in track because I was coaching it that year, and I encouraged him to join. That pushed him past that tipping point where he is now self motivated to train. He finds races on the Internet and nags me to train with him. Running with him is a real joy, especially knowing that in a number of years, he won’t want to be seen with me anymore.

A final motivation is simply keeping the kids busy doing things and off of the streets. The old saying, “the devil finds work for idle hands” can really apply. When I was a teenager, sports and music help keep me busy and out of trouble, and I knew kids who didn’t do any positive activities outside of school get into really negative ones. But those are stories for another day…

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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