Parents: Is there value in subjecting kids to unpleasant things just because?

Darn the thread title length limit!

What I am trying to ask here is do you think it is necessary to subject your children to things they don’t enjoy, simply to show them that life isn’t all a bowl of cherries?

I’m not talking about school or something mandatory. I mean theoretically optional things, maybe sports, electives, or volunteer activities.

One school of thought seems to be that parents should try to make childhood enjoyable because it only happens once. Reality invades all too soon, and children are going to learn eventually that life can be unpleasant, some people don’t enjoy their jobs or where they live, people you love are going to die, and so on.

The other school of thought seems to be that children should for these very reasons be shown early on that life isn’t always fun, and that they are going to have to do things they don’t enjoy. Making little Joey play T-ball even though he doesn’t like it will build character, he will learn teamwork and he will thank you later on, etc. etc.

Needless to say as a parent I am conflicted on this issue. My natural instinct is to protect my son from pain and unplesantness, at least as much as I reasonably can. He is only six and I figure soon enough he will learn life can suck. His grandparents are going to get sick and die, there will be bullies on the playground when Dad isnt’ around, and on and on.

At the same time I don’t want to coddle him though. Maybe learning to deal with mild unpleasantness from time to time teaches you to deal with the bigger hits you will inevitably encounter?

So how about it. Do you think we should intentionally subject our kids to experiences they don’t enjoy, for their own good?

Hrm. I think you’re missing at least one school of parental thought here.

It’s the one that says the kids can choose extracurricular activities (in my case it’s my sic-year-olds Karate and Dance) they’d like to do and it’s the parents job to make sure they do it properly. That means giving them the discipline to practice and get better even when they’d be happier just slacking off (if a six-year-old can slack). Frequently this leads to the ever-popular ‘If you’re not going to practice there’s no point in keeping up with the class’ argument that works for me.

As for placing the kids in some activity just because I wanted them to learn some unpopular lesson? I think that’s crap thinking. My job as a parent is to teach them how to be adults in the ‘choose a goal and acheive it’ way. It’s not my job to beat them down to be downhearted members of society.

As for the ‘teamwork’ angle I understand the point. But I think the overriding goal of parenting is to allow the kids to become who they want to be and not who the parents want them to be. And that means not projecting onto them my own desires and wants.

My parents believed in childhood being as ideal as possible for as long as possible. I will always thank them for it. I did the same for my daughter and she tells me she had as good a childhood as would be possible. She is now doing the same for her toddler and new born. I swore the main thing I would be able to say when I looked back at parenthood was that I did all I could to enjoy my child. Idealistic, I know. Meant we gave her time far more than things money could buy, because there wasn’t a great deal of money. Alright, I am wearing rose coloured glasses, but I am all for doing everything to make childhood sweet. That doesn’t mean lots of presents, trips, big houses, cars, fancy parties … it means your time and saftey and protecting them from the world’s nasties as long as possible.

One thing I can propmise you, the world will dish up the lessons they need to learn sooner or later. No need for you to do it.

As a teacher of many years, I wish every parent would read your words of wisdom.

I don’t believe in pushing kids into unpleasant situations for the sake of it. As Lynne said, life will do it sooner or later. If your goal is to break the kid’s spirit, then by all means, go ahead. Maybe build them a nice cage in the basement to live in while you’re at it.

That said, I don’t believe in shielding the kid from the harsh realities of life either. My daughter is 3, knows that we cut those cute chickens up to make sandwiches, that everything dies, and when we find a dead squirrel in the street, we discuss how it might of died, and how it could have been avoided.

A child that knows that the world is a wonderful, but potentially unsafe, unfair place is better equipped to thrive in it. But forcing a kid into unwanted piano lessons does nothing to teach them how to approach disappointments in the real world, unless you are pre-supposing failure…

The only thing I have ever heard anyone praise their parents for forcing them into was music. I used to work in the industry and know several good musicians who say they wouldn’t have stuck with it if their parents had not insisted that they stick with it for a set period. By the time they had fulfilled their “obligation” they were good enough to enjoy what they were doing. I tried the same approach with my kids, as soon as they expressed an interest in music but neither attained any great passion and gave up.

My parents forced me and my brothers, for safety reasons, to take swimming lessons until we received a certificate saying we could swim 100 metres. Two of us became competitive swimmers and held junior records and won trophies. I can’t imagine that I would have bothered if I hadn’t been exposed to proper lessons and training.

You can’t isolate a child from the world and it’s unpleasant aspects unless you keep your child locked up in the house their entire childhood. There will be bullies, there will be gossips, there will be mean teachers and there will be disappointments a plenty as they grow and find their way in the world. I try to protect my kids from that as much as I can by listening to them and helping them deal with the negative aspects of growing up. But I think shielding them from hardship and disappointment is helping them grow up insular and that will not help them when they hit adulthood and must make their own way as competent and functional adults.

As far as intentionally exposing them to unpleasant situations like insisting they stick with the piano lessons, or swim team practice or eating brussel sprouts, well, that’s just teaching them to follow through on their commitments and doing what’s right. It’s stupid to continue to push them if they are simply not cut out for piano, swimming or brussel sprouts, but giving it their best even if they don’t succeed is a valuable lesson to teach. That’s all any parent can really do. That and help them find something they do enjoy and are good at. Help them find it and support/cheer them when they do.

Well, I can remember being a kid. I can remember more than a few times I’d pitch a fit because my parents were either making me join some kind of sports team I didn’t want to be on or making me go to some kind of summer camp I didn’t want to go to.

After being on the team for a few weeks or being at camp after a few days and I’d be love’n life.

The fact is; my parents knew me better than I knew me. And they would in fact poke a little loving fun at me once they started to see I was gasp enjoying myself.

They’d say thing like: " Oh… Did you want to go to practice today? Hmmm, but I thought you didn’t like baseball… :wink: "

Shut-up Dad. :rolleyes:


I think it’s important to make kids follow through commitments, especially once you are old enough to understand the commitment you are making. There is a girl at the high school where I teach who won’t ever make anything again because she was an officer in the dance team and quit three weeks into the year. So no musical, no cheerleading, no nothing since then. She thinks it’s the most unfair thing ever, but it really isn’t even about punishing her–it’s that no one is willing to trust the sucess of the group to her. Had she stuck with the dance team for a year and then not auditioned for the next year, that would have been fine. But just walking away was not right, and were she my daughter I would have highly discouraged it.

The same thing applies on a smaller scale for younger kids–if you’ve commited to something, you should have to see out that commitment. I would do whatever I could to try and ease the process (WHY do you hate T-ball so much when you were so excited about it? Ok, what can we do about that . . .) and if they were truly just miserable, I wouldn’t be a monster about it–though I would go to great lengths to see that they lived out the commitment in some way.

I also think it’s important for parents to push kids outside thier comfort zone. Again, this isn’t to expose them to misery, it’s to broaden their interests. I only ever wanted to do things that I exceled in. I wish my parents hadn’t allowed that–I wish I’d learned sooner that everyone that’s not number one at a given activity is not automatically miserable about it and that it’s ok to not be the best.

Why would you subject anyone to unpleasantness just for the sake of it? Do you occasionally hit your *own * thumb with a hammer “just because?”

As parents, we have plenty of opportunities to teach our kids responsibility by making them do things that are actually necessary. Clean your room. Do your homework. Go to bed. Stop torturing your sister. There’s no need to force a kid into random activities chosen purely for his distaste for them. If your kid really believes that life is a thing of joyous wonder wherein nothing will ever be expected of him that doesn’t bring him pleasure, I suggest you start with making him take out the trash.

Trust me, kids *know * that life sucks. They’re not the boss of anyone. They don’t get the last word about anything. Their entire life takes place at the whims of people more powerful than them, be they adults or bullies or the class arbiters of cool. Do most parents really have absolutely no memory of the sheer frustration of being a kid?

Well this is just stupid.

Who here is advocating going out of one’s way to deliberately inject misery into a child’s life?

The reasonable question is how does one determine to what extent does the “building character” experience cross over to the more harm than potential reward.

Quick example.

Let’s say Child X really wants to take karate lessons. Parents discuss it with each other and child, complete the necessary research, then sign the kid up for the six-month package at the local, well-reputed dojo.

After two weeks, the kid decides this isn’t the way it appears on TV, doesn’t like it and wants to quit. As the parents, what do you do?

Probably too many variables in this scenario to provide the definitive answer but I would lean more to the tough-it-out mentality rather than cave in and have the child determine that if something doesn’t provide 100% entertainment value, it’s not worth the trouble.

The OP (not advocating, but asking if it’s a good idea). I’m not sure this is what he actually meant, but if you read the words, he’s not asking whether a parent should make his kid finish what he starts (which of course a parent should), but whether there’s any value in signing the kid up for something you *know * he’s not going to like, in the interest of imparting valuable life lessons.

I think the trouble is more when it wasn’t the kids idea in the first place–a five year old doesn’t know aobut T-ball or soccer or piano lessons, and you don’t know which ones they are going to like or hate. Should you initiate these things, which they may hate, and if they do, should you make them stick it out?

As I said earlier, I think kids do need to be pushed out of their comfort zones and encouraged to discover things they like that they would not have thought of. And once they do that, they need to give it an honest try to see if they like it. But there needs to be an escape clause after a reasonable period of time.

It’s the difference between making a kid try three bites of a strange new food and making them clean their plate of something you knew in advance that they hated.

I think forcing a kid to take up an activity he or she dislikes is silly and a waste of money (with the possible exception of something like swimming, where there’s a legitimate safety reason for everyone to acquire the basic skills – but even so, if a child absolutely hates and fears the water, forcing him in anyway is likely to do more harm than good). Honestly, I think you’d be teaching a much healthier life lesson if you used the money to sponsor another child who genuinely wants to do these activities but whose parents can’t afford it.

I can see the character-building angle if the child chooses the activity but wants to quit before the first sports season or set of lessons is over, but not otherwise, and I think the child’s decision should be respected as soon as he or she reaches a legitimate “quitting place.”

As with anything, I think both extremes are bad.

Some kids need to be pushed. If left to their own devices, they will sit on their duffs all day and watch Jerry Springer. They don’t know what they want to do or they’re just plain lazy. In those cases, I think parents should be involved. Case in point: my mother wanted me to take piano lessons. I did not. For a year, I suffered through the basics, with obligatory recitals and all. Then she allowed me to give up. But with what I learned, I was able to switch to the violin–which I wanted to take up–and feel confident in my abilities. Although I did not enjoy piano lessons, I feel like I got something out of them.

On the other end, I think parents shouldn’t force unpleasant things on children just to make life harder for them, ie. to “toughen them up”. If a child shows no atheletic prowess or desire to be atheletic, do not force them into sports. If a child would rather read books and play with their stuffed animals all alone, do not force them on playdates with obnoxious children. Do not force a shy child to play Mary in the Christmas play. As long as they are being constructive with their free time (not just sitting around being couch potatoes), I think parents should not worry so much about drumming up activities.

(I am not a parent.) Overall I’m going to have to agree with Johnathan Chance. However:

While I agree that not trying to force your child into some “model” that they have to fulfill, it is still your duty to see to the physical and mental health of your child. Making sure they eat their greens, do get some exercise, can perform basic arithmetic, etc. is something that the parent should do regardless of whether your child enjoys any of those.

Forcing your kid to learn “the piano” and become some virtuoso might be bad, but saying that they should at least learn sheat-music and playing the recorder isn’t bad (and was required by my K-9 school.) Regardless that either way you are forcing them into something they might not like, the intent is a lot different. One I’m trying to get my kid to do something impressive that would make me happy. While as with the other, I’m simply making sure that my kid is widening his horizons and not missing out on something he might enjoy because other kids said “only pansies play music” or whatever.

Which…is almost exactly what monstro said… :smack:

Forcing children to deal with unpleasant, but necessary stuff, is part of good parenting. The unpleasant stuff is, for the most part, training for dealing with big unpleasant shit you deal with when you’re older. You don’t have to force it on them. You just need teach them how to deal with it when it comes along. And it surely will.

The trouble is that too many parents, teachers, etc., interpret “dealing with big unpleasant shit” to mean basically not dealing with it – more just taking it with no allowance for one’s own personal well being.

In agreeing with this, can I note that “getting some exercise” is NOT the same as “playing some sport”? I specialise in teaching high ability students, particualrly in mathematics and science. Some fit the nerdy stereotype perfectly. They are often fantastic kids with a really wonderful sense of humour, but sport can be pure misery for some of them. I have watched extremes of distress asa result of schools and/or parents who believe that outdoor programs - tough camping and hiking trips - are great for character building. They merely served the purpose of exposing them to even more ridicule than they usually get. Sporty type people can be incredibly insensitive to this.

It has been great to watch schools introduce non-competitive exercise programs for such kids. Aerobics, dance (fun type) and walking programs in schools are some kind of alternative. Some of you may know of better examples. Then there is justification for pressure to be involved.

I have heard there are kids who don’t like maths. Can’t imagine it myself, but there you go. I don’t expect them all to end up loving it like I do.

DianaG - you speak a lot of wisdom!