14/08/2014 16:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Are We Failing Our Children By Being Too Pushy?

Are we failing our children?

Another phone call from my son: "How do you make gravy mum?" He was at university and didn't want a tin of Bisto - just the real thing. But were I to believe MP Claire Perry, the Government's advisor for children and families, I've failed as a parent.

Perry's had quite a rant at parents. Amongst her criticisms, apart from not teaching the gravy-making, are parents who orchestrate their children's lives too much, enrol them in too many activities, project frustrated ambitions as cup cake making mums onto their offspring, but at the same time don't keep up to speed with the dangers of the internet to which our children are exposed.

Was this a justified and accurate observation of parenting?

Many think not, but I'm not so sure she is wrong, especially where too many activities and misplaced ambitions are concerned.

Too many children do too many activities after school.


As a former teacher I heard rather too often the excuse: "I didn't have time to complete my homework because I had to go to gym practice, French, Spanish, swimming, Kumon, karate, guitar or ballet."


Julia, an experienced KS1 teacher, told me: "I often felt that children were not necessarily choosing to do a certain after school activity but that their parents thought they should as several of their peers were, and they didn't want them "missing out".

"When they start school children can get very tired as they have a busy day. It would be more beneficial for them just to go home and relax by playing in the garden or watching television rather than rushing off to another "class" after the school.

"Having one, or sometimes even two activities after school soon catches up with them as they have no downtime and become very tired. Children can become tearful during the school day, simply because they are exhausted, often because they are late to bed; they had to fit in eating, reading or learning spellings, all after coming home from the activity.

"I am not suggesting children don't do anything after school, but one carefully chosen activity that the child really looks forward to is so much better than 'fitting in' as many as you can just for the sake of it."

If teachers suggest that a child is doing too much parents often say, "But it builds their confidence to do activities out of school." And what does it do to your child's confidence if they have no time to do their homework properly, are unable to spell or are so tired they can't concentrate in class?

If your child has a passion for swimming or dancing, great - nurture it. But don't enrol them to keep up with the trend, especially if they hate it, like Ben told me. "I hate Scouts but my dad makes me go." Why? "He thinks it is good for me."

Psychologist Dr Sandi Mann says:


Parents are terrified of their child being bored. They feel it's their responsibility to keep their child busy. Yet my research shows that unless children have time to be bored and daydream, they lose the ability to be creative.


She adds: "Parents are afraid that their child is not being stimulated enough, which they think leads to low levels of achievement and their child being 'left behind'. In fact the opposite is often the case. A child may achieve more by being left to amuse themselves, and think for themselves, than be dragged off to Mandarin classes or whatever."

Nowadays one of the worst things a child can utter to their parent is, "I'm bored." If your child says this, what's your best reaction? According to Mann, "Good! Now find something to do!"

She adds: "Feeling responsible for your child is a modern day trend; 40 years ago parents didn't beat themselves up over keeping their children amused or stimulated. Many parents feel failures in the eyes of other parents if they are not seen to be organising loads of activities for their children. It's become a middle class competition."

Liat Hughes Joshi, author of Raising Children, The Primary Years, says: "When you add up the hours they're at school and then those they're spending in extra classes and doing homework, some of them are coming in at the equivalent of a 'working week' that would leave adults exhausted!

"They spend about 32 hours at school and there are children who are doing 10 hours a week of a couple of hours of homework.

"I just wonder what it's all for and if some of us lose perspective. Our children aren't projects to hone - they are little people and they just don't need to do this much stuff to grow into happy adults."

Headmaster Anthony Seldon states: "Good parenting is really quite simple: it is allowing the child to become the unique person he or she is and wants to be. Being a winner is being that person.


Parents who bludgeon their children to be a 'mini me' may feel that they are doing the right thing: but it is a cruel misrepresentation of what good parenting is.


And if your child is not being ferried to Mandarin and a million other activities, they could use that time at home to learn how to cook gravy, do their laundry, keep their rooms clean and prepare themselves for life outside the home.

What do you think?