Cover image for Keeping your kids out front without kicking them from behind : how to nurture high-achieving athletes, scholars, and performing artists
Keeping your kids out front without kicking them from behind : how to nurture high-achieving athletes, scholars, and performing artists
Tofler, Ian, 1958-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, [2000]

Physical Description:
xix, 227 pages ; 24 cm
Debating what is best for our children -- From benign to abusive -- Step 1. Evaluate "talent" -- Step 2. Selecting classes, schools, and camps that cater to high-achieving children -- Step 3. Beware abusive instructors -- Step 4. Weigh the cost of sacrifice -- Step 5. Look beyond the talent into the future -- Step 6. Beware the red flags of achievement by proxy distortion -- Step 7. Take a good look at your parenting style.
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Material Type
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HQ773.5 .T63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Keeping Your Kids Out Front Without Kicking Them From Behind is acommon sense guide for moms and dads of talented and giftedchildren. In this practical book, authors Dr. Ian Tofler andTheresa Geronimo--experts in the field of parenting--present theirSeven-Step Program for Encouraging and Protecting High-AchievingChildren. This innovative program offers guidance for establishinghealthy boundaries between parents' ambitions and the needs oftheir talented children and clear-cut instructions for helpingchildren balance achievement with happiness.

To read Debating What is Best for Our Children, an excerpt fromthis book,click here.

Author Notes

Theresa Foy DiGeronimo has collaborated on several books written for parents, teachers, & coaches, including "Raising a Healthy Athlete" & "Help Your Child Get the Most Out of School". She lives in Hawthorne, NJ.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One Debating What Is Best for Our Children Evolutionary theory suggests that each new generation of a robust species should have the chance to be more successful than the one that came before. All our high-achieving children put the ideas behind this theory into practice and to the test. We have every reason to expect that their lives will be better and richer than our own. In today's success-driven world, it is no longer remarkable when the unborn fetus is often exposed to "head start" stories and music; children routinely attend "Ivy League" preschools and take standardized college entrance exams at age twelve. Many begin music, dance, acting, or voice lessons at age three, and others travel the globe playing on elite sport teams by age ten. Basking in their precocious accomplishments, we as ambitious, driven, and, of course, successful parents naturally feel proud and somehow responsible for their success.     This generation of parents is brimming with good intentions. We want our children to reach their full potential and be "the best"--and we are willing to sacrifice untold time, effort, and money to make this happen. High-achieving children who find themselves successful in academics, athletics, or any of the performing arts become the brightest jewel in the family's crown. However, along with this parenting style comes the unavoidable question: Just how far should parents or adult mentors push children to ensure that they are the best? Should seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff have been allowed to commandeer her cross-country plane trip that ended in her death? Did the provocative poses taught to six-year-old Jon Benet Ramsay and her lush $500 dresses contribute to the sexualization and eventual murder of this young beauty queen? When fourteen-year-old Hannes Sarkuni, his fifteen-year-old brother Sehrope, and their fifteen-year-old cousin Shant all graduated Rutgers University before they could grow a full beard, did they lose something called childhood? When Misty Copeland moved out of her poor family home at the age of sixteen to train and live with a dancing coach and suddenly had no time to visit her mother, was she deprived of something she needed for healthy development? The "right" answers are debatable depending on one's view of the parent-child relationship, the role of peers and stability, and indeed the whole purpose and concept of childhood.     The role of the child in different societies and cultures has evolved in fits and starts throughout history and will no doubt continue to be redefined. The following broad historical overview illustrates the changeable nature of the phrase acting in the best interest of the child . This insight gives us a way to evaluate more objectively whether the way we encourage this generation of children to be the best is in fact in their own best interest. As you read through this book, you'll read many examples of parental decisions that were made in the supposed best interest of the child that were not always truly best for the child. Children as Sacrificial Lambs Two thousand years B.C.E., child sacrifice was not at all uncommon. In the Bible we read that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son to God, and he was willing to do so. At the time, this was not an uncommon, repugnant, or culturally unreasonable request. Children have been sacrificed throughout history in religious ceremonies as well as in cultures that valued only the strongest (often male) offspring.     These sacrifices that were made in "the best interest" of the child or of the overall society are not so primitive as we'd like to think. They are not so far removed in intent from today's late third trimester abortions of children who are not wanted or are not physically ideal. Or from the infanticide (especially of female infants) routinely practiced (if not officially sanctioned) in countries like China. This is not a judgment of right or wrong; it is an observation of what is. Children as Goods and Chattel Throughout most of recorded history, children were considered the property of adults. They were used physically, emotionally, economically, and sexually on all socioeconomic levels without any notice or outcry. In fact, it was not until the seventeenth century that the concept of childhood was even recognized as a status separate and distinct from adulthood. Unfortunately, this recognition did not put an end to childhood exploitation. The Industrial Revolution sucked up poor children as young as five years of age, who endured long hours of brutal and dangerous factory labor. Parents defended the situation as being in the best interest of the child, citing the Puritan ethic that saw child labor as a natural blessing. Even the passage of the first Factory Act in 1802 protected only pauper and orphan children; it did nothing for those still under their parents' supervision.     A milestone in child rights occurred in 1842 in England. The seventh earl of Shaftesbury presented evidence to the House of Commons detailing the unspeakable abuse of children as young as four who were working as beasts of burden in the coal mines of England and Scotland. The "reformation" of 1842 sought to eliminate the exploitation of these children by reducing the working hours of a child under age twelve to ten hours a day. Imagine believing that working only ten hours a day was best for the children! But at least it was a start. Children as Innately Evil The trauma of being a child during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was further amplified by prevailing religious beliefs (particularly those held by the evangelical Protestants called Calvinists). Preachers professed that children carried the burden of original sin and must be cured of their evil inclinations in order for them to achieve salvation. At this time it was the duty of Christian parents to use sternness and whippings to purge their children of this sin. Playfulness in children was considered ominous. It was believed that children could learn to obey God only by first learning to obey their parents. The noted clergyman John Wesley admonished parents: "Break their wills that you may save their souls" (quoted in Packard, 1983). These parents were absolutely sure that severe beatings were for the children's own good.     Leaving religion aside, the notion of "spare the rod and spoil the child" persists in many homes today--but now we have a new and forbidding catch phrase: child abuse and neglect. Children Abused In 1896, Sigmund Freud presented a paper, titled "Seduction Theory," that caused a major public outcry. He suggested the astonishing and frighteningly original idea that sexual and physical child abuse is one of the major causes of psychological and medical symptoms of older children and adults. Freud recanted this claim within a single year, after he was subjected to enormous hostility, ridicule, and, yes, abuse by his peers in the medical profession and by the horrified general community.     Still, despite this major setback, there were signs in the late 1800s and early 1900s that adults were ready to consider the idea that children were more than property to be beaten and whipped into shape. In 1871, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded with support from key members of the previously established Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (This in itself is an ironic commentary on social priorities!) Houses of refuge were established for neglected and abused children. Some state courts created a safety net by establishing that in extreme cases, children could not be removed from the care of their parents and placed in the hands of a government institution. For the first time, society had begun to acknowledge that what parents desire for their children--and do to them--is not necessarily what is best for them.     Unfortunately, it would be another sixty-five years after the "Seduction Theory" fiasco before Kempe and colleagues presented "The Battered Child Syndrome" in 1962. The publication of this article galvanized medical, legislative, and media attention to the problem of child abuse and neglect. It led to the establishment of protective service agencies and mandatory reporting laws in all of the states.     Finally, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, society has been willing to consider the idea that children not only are more than property but also are human beings with rights who require special protection and treatment. The grudging acknowledgment of physical child abuse has led slowly to a recognition of other, less obvious forms of abuse, such as the nonorganic failure-to-thrive syndrome, chronic neglect, sexual abuse, and factitious by proxy abuse.     As the definition of abuse continues to develop, new questions arise. Is it abusive to require a thirteen-year-old musical prodigy to practice eight hours every day? Is it abusive to expect an injured athlete to compete in the championship game? Is it abusive to take play time away from academically gifted young children and enroll them in after-school and Saturday-school classes? This kind of behavioral intervention occurs across the country a thousand times a day in households where parents want only the best for their children. But history shows us that actions and decisions are not necessarily good and acceptable just because they grow from a parent's, family's, or nation's genuine desire to do what is best for the child. Witness the Elian Gonzalez case in which all individuals, groups, and even governments have cited "the child's best interest." Children as Gold Widespread use of the contraceptive pill after 1962 indelibly changed the relationship between parent and child. Couples now had the opportunity to choose whether or not and when to have children. Family size dramatically decreased, and the children were now wanted, planned for, and "golden." Medical care had advanced, ensuring a majority of healthy, even premature, births and complete recovery from childhood illnesses. This gave parents the freedom to attach emotionally to their children without fear of losing them.     In the early 1980s, in-vitro fertilization made it possible for more people to have "wanted" and precious children. Older, childless couples who would give the world for a biological heir were now able to conceive and bear healthy children. The time, cost, and effort required for these miracle births were rewarded with a very special child who was worth more than his weight in gold to his parents.     This new generation of wanted children is loved, pampered, and privileged. They are given all that money can buy. They are being lovingly molded into nothing but the best. This is a new variation of old parenting styles that sets up unique family dynamics and a brand new way of defining what is best for a child. Children as Collateral Conceiving, bearing, and raising a wanted child is not cheap. Typically, golden children enjoy economic privilege, even if their parents must sacrifice their own needs to achieve it. Money plays a crucial role in creating children who are the cream of the crop. It is expensive to hire private tutors, coaches, and instructors. Specialty schools, camps, and classes are costly and cater exclusively to "exceptionally talented" youngsters whose parents can pay the fee. With so much invested both financially and emotionally, what is the payback for parents? What does a parent get in return for years of chauffeuring a son back and forth to the city university for advanced math classes? What does a mom get for providing years of private voice, dance, and acting lessons for her daughter? What does a dad get for traveling all over the country with his son's soccer team and sacrificing his own leisure and vacation time to the playing field? Do these children owe their parents anything?     Very often, there is an implied (if not stated) debt to be paid, Many high-achieving children are held as collateral for these investments of money, time, and attention. The payback is in their willingness to sacrifice their own instincts and goals to their parent's wishes. It is in their ability to earn college scholarship money. It is in their commitment to hours of practice or study. It is in their sense of obligation to bring attention and admiration to the family. These children learn early that they owe it to their parents to become the best. Thousands of children accept this deal and open themselves to potential exploitation not only by their parents but also by coaches, mentors, and instructors. When this process occurs, is history repeating itself? Are children once again nothing more than glorified goods and chattel who are robbed of childhood in the name of what's good for them? The Line Between Encouragement and Exploitation As we have discussed, it is clear that the relationship between children and adults evolves over time and that practices that are socially acceptable in one generation are not in another. We believe that in the twenty-first century, the exploitative abuse of high-achieving children will come into focus. As our society begins to examine the possibility that singlemindedly pushing children to be the very best has great potential for detriment to the healthy development of the person inside the child.     To examine this emerging form of potential abuse, we will need to define the difference between encouragement and exploitation. We believe the line is drawn at the point that separates the parent's needs and goals from those of the child. This book will help you determine what is truly best for your child and give you the information you need to encourage your child's potential without pushing him or her over that line. Copyright © 2000 Ian Robert Tofler and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

An Up-Close Look at Parents and Children
Debating What is Best for Our Children
From Benign to Abusive
A Seven-Step Program for Encouraging and Protecting High-Achieving Children
Step 1 Define and Evaluate ""Talent"" Why Evaluate Talent?
Six Points of Talent Evaluation
Advice from the Experts
Step 2 Selecting Classes, Schools, and Camps that Cater to High-Achieving Children Evaluate Four Motives for Special Training
1) Improvement of Skill
2) Supportive Environment