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“Mom, can you buy me an energy drink to take just before my swimming race?” That was my son the day before their much awaited school swimming gala. You see my son loves to swim and jumps at every opportunity to be in the swimming pool. His swimming has improved dramatically to the extent that he made it to the finals to represent blue house on race day. I was therefore naturally very curious, and wondered, about this request for an energy drink.

“What is an energy drink?” I asked him. Call this exerting on him some parental pressure – but I just had to be sure that I had fully understood his request. Sure, he responded: “Muuuuummmmmm…… you know those drinks that you drink so that they can give you energy – like Shark, Monster, Redbull and , Lucozade Boost!”. It was clear that he knew very well what he was talking about.

All his friends were doing it and…his swimming teacher knew about it

It was not just parental pressure on his competitiveness; it was also peer influence at play. When I asked him why he wanted to take the drink before the race, he informed me that all his friends were doing it and had indicated the specific variety of drink they would buy. I further asked him if this was allowed and if his swimming teacher knew about it, and he said yes, they had asked and they were told it was ok. That energy drinks are harmless. Did I mention that my son is in Standard 6?

Dear fellow parents, we exercise parental pressure on our kids every so often. Especially the pressure to win, to be first, to beat others, to…

Please note with utmost concern that: competitive doping is not the preserve of sportsmen and women all over the world; it is not confined to star studded competitive sporting events, marathons, championships and tournaments, no…..; it is not as a result of wanting to grab worldly titles and shiny global medals; it is sadly sadly sadly manifesting as early as primary school level. And in many cases it is due to parental pressure, unfortunately.

Parental pressure on the child to perform is real. Whether you are 40, 30, 20 or 10 years old. You too probably experienced it when you were young. That’s what the world has come to. The need to win is intense and plays out in sports, in academic circles, in the work place and at social activities. Parental pressure is shameless!

Parental pressure to live up to the expectation of others

Psychology informs us that, although this parental pressure may seem palpably real and especially in the sports arena, it is actually internal pressure meted out by self, parents and guardians. Other than from parents, those in charge of sports performance like teachers and coaches, and sometimes even fans, administer “you-must-win” pressure on the competitors. This pressure expresses itself in an internal conversation that pits one against the competition; places expectations on self about the sheer need to win; mounts pressure to live up to the expectation of others; has the fear of failure exhibit itself as a strangling monster ahead of the race; demands perfection that becomes a non-negotiable goal with regards to the competition at hand. (Brian Mac 2016)

Nothing else matters but winning?

Imagine this as the foundation of your child’s life where winning is everything? Imagine your child growing up into that teen/young adult/leader for whom nothing else matters but winning? It is on the basis of this exact footing that unstable characters who would go to no end (unscrupulous or otherwise) to win are created. It doesn’t just start in adulthood, it is grown throughout life with the constant premise that one must be at the ‘top in their class’ with regards to academic performance, emerge as the winner on sports day or swimming gala, be the best performer at the music or poetry recital, be the best dancer in the dance class … the list is endless. Are we parents guilty of playing this harp rather loudly? Are we the same ones who chide our children when they don’t win and celebrate them gloriously when they do. This underpins the notion that anything less than a win means the child is not ‘good enough’?

Sober discussion about performance altering substances

Back to our energy drink situation… we had a very sober discussion about performance altering substances, be they as innocent as off the shelf energy drinks, or the more sophisticated hormonal doping and androgenization by professional athletes, and the fact that they amount to the same thing. That anything ingested or inhaled that alters the body to enhance one’s performance over and above the gifts and talents that are God given is in actual fact an affront to the very God that gave one those abilities.

That if winning means cheating, then that win is no win worth winning at all. That there is indeed no difference between a child who drinks a tin can of Monster ahead of the swimming race to swim faster than his colleagues, and a child who hides a piece of paper under the desk during exam time and copies answers from it to ‘win’ his colleagues during the exam.

I must say this analogy worked magic. It was also critically important to let him know that no matter what number he emerged in the swimming race, the very fact that he was there competing fairly and in a just manner with integrity, was the biggest win ever. And that we would already celebrate that big time. The message that winning displays itself not only in receiving medals on the stage, but by conquering temptation, evil, injustice and irregularity was clear and I’m happy to report that the request for energy drinks died a quick death, never to resurrect from his lips again.

Parents are the authors of their children’s lives

It is said that parents are the authors of their children’s lives that are presented as a blank slate, upon which the book of their destiny is written. The outcome of these works and the destination of this journey can only be a masterpiece, if we as parents, plant the seeds of righteousness, justice, fairness and integrity, and water these seeds to a fulfilling fruition.

Useful Links on Parental Pressure (and other sources of child pressure!)

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