Pushy Parents are told to Slow down and let children thrive
Eton Master warns pressure can be damaging
Greg Hurst Education Editor. The Times Saturday October 13th 2012
Pushy parents, “tiger” mothers, turbo charged fathers- prepare to meet your nemesis. Eton College is in the vanguard of a new movement seeking to tell teachers, teenagers and especially their parents to slow down, even to embrace a little idleness.
The message is aimed at families so preoccupied with theirs child’s development that they micromanage free time, ferrying them from super selective schools to tutors, music teachers and sports clubs. Yet the result, says Mike Grenier, a house master at Eton, may be to demotivate a child and even cause psychological damage. Such “hyper parenting is at its most extreme in London, where a rise in the birth-rate has heightened competition for places at private pre prep schools.
Mr Grenier say: “We know that for a lot of pre schools in some of the more affluent areas- Knightsbridge, Kensington, Battersea- the perception is that there are not enough places and that is it is only in a private school that you are going to get the quality starting from the age of 3 or 4 that will see you pass to the next stage through the private sector. So the reality is that there are children who are being given interview coaching at the age of 3 or 4”. He has heard worse from New York: children doing an hour or more music practice or tutoring before school, two or three hours of one to one tuition afterwards then a physically demanding activity such as swimming or ballet.
Ironically, Mr Grenier says, such parents may be holding their children back by not allowing them to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. “Not only are they in danger of demotivating children because they feel they are a passive project being constructed rather against their will but it could lead people to feel very anxious when confronted by new difficulties.”
Moreover, he says, parents ought to be role models for their children, and living with pressure and anxiety is not a good example. Mr Grenier is an advocate of how slow education, a concept adapted from a culinary movement begun in Italy as an antidote to fast food.
With other teachers, in private and state schools, he is spearheading a campaign to infuse this approach into education, and will speak at the London Festival of Education next month. But isn’t Eaton itself a hothouse? There is a tremendous amount of pressure, he concedes: working hard is the norm here. “Peer group pressure is important and in some ways is a tremendously positive and motivating force. The boys want to do well, they want to keep up and boys are competitive.”
He identifies three spheres for learning at Eaton. First is the curriculum, in which, slow, schooling means more independent research, project work, collaboration, reflection. Second come its many extracurricular activities: the housemaster’s sitting room looks out on playing fields where Eaton’s first XV rugby team is practicing drills in the rain. Third area is activity lead by the boys themselves. “The experience there is so successful, in particular with teenagers because so much of it is self-motivated.” He says. “Boys are choosing to direct their own plays, to enter creative pries, volunteer for mentoring programmes.”
The role of a teacher or parent, he says, is to provide a safety net as a child walks a tightrope, and to raise or lower it. “The danger of hyper- parenting,”Mr Grenier says, “Is that it is intrusive and they don’t even let them get on the high rope at all.”
Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:
It’s great to see top schools like Eaton realising that over stimulation of children is often not helpful in their overall development. We seem in such a rush to pack so many things into our children’s lives that we often fail to understand that “less is sometimes more”. Giving time and space i.e. “slowing down” allows certain parts of the brain to develop properly and minimises the risk of turning our children into “stressed” individuals, which may come back to haunt them in adult life. Don’t forget that 95% of our brain activity is subconscious and it’s our subconscious brain that allows our bodies to run smoothly in the background without having to think too much about it. Time and space allows ideas to happen and helps with our creativity.