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The Effects that Young Success have on a Child and their Development Within Society
While growing up, every child tries to find a way to define themselves. Most children become involved in some sort of extra curricular activity whether it be an athletic sport, music, drama, or dance; and they begin to define themselves by the well known stereotypes of each activity and their success within it. Jocks are expected to be tough and rugged, putting their physical success above their education; notable child musicians are labeled as child prodigies and presumed to practice their music for hours a day; young actors and actresses are trusted to be perfect role models for any fans they may acquire, expected to experience huge success, whether it be locally or nationally, and become “stars;” and competitive dancers are assumed to be comfortable with exploiting their sexuality and having an eating disorder while they maintain top physical condition.
Society and the media often showcase and encourage these expected personality traits through popular teen movies and prime time television shows. A prime example of this is the movie “Mean Girls.” The entire plot of this movie revolves around high school stereotypes that, as stated by Fabiola Hernandez, “unfortunately hold true most of the time” (Hernandez 1). While producers claim to not be encouraging the practice of these stereotypes, the amount of influence that the media and society have over the children of today ultimately forces them to take on the expected characteristics of their activities. As a result, these highly impressionable children do not have to only deal with the developmental stereotypes placed up on them by society, but they also have to deal with the pressure of achieving the amount of success that they themselves, their parents, and their teachers wish for them to have.
Many people within society associate success with happiness, and because of this, they want their children to be successful in whatever activities they choose to participate in. A parent entering a child into a soccer or football program wants them to become a part of a winning team, for they believe that joining a team that experiences more success will not only encourage their child’s confidence but will also increase their self-esteem. As time progresses, just being part of the team is no longer enough. Most parents will begin to want their child to become an “important” member of the team and have a bigger impact on the team’s success. If their child is often sitting on the side-lines or standing back and allowing the other team members to earn the win, they feel that their child is not getting everything they should out of playing the sport. They tend to believe that allowing others to control the situation and consume the spotlight can have a negative effect on their child’s self-esteem and form them into a “follower.” This assumption then leads to parents encouraging their child to work harder during practice and try harder during games, for they believe that is it necessary for their child to get their moment in the spotlight, whether it is something they want or not.
This increased pressure to stand out and succeed can have a very negative affect on a child. Not all children are meant to be “sports superstars,” and forcing something like that upon a child can be very harmful to their self-esteem. They begin to believe that there actions and abilities are no longer good enough, and they start to doubt their self worth. The “Research of Youth Sports: Critical Issues Status” reported that:
A young athlete’s emotional response was further shown to be related to his or her perceptions of parental pressure by Hellstedt (1988). Hellstedt (1988) found that the “degree of parental pressure is related to the type of affective reaction from the young athlete” with high levels of parental pressure related to negative athlete response. The athletes were also shown to be apprehensive about how their parents would react emotionally, such as with disappointment or disapproval, when they did not perform well. In addition, according to these young athletes, continued sport participation was due, in part, to the desire to please their parents… (Gould 28).
This study showed that children will often do anything they can to receive their parents’ approval. When a parent begins to imply that their child’s actions are not good enough, the child will often respond with stress and anxiety. Parents should be willing to accept their child’s ability levels as they are, for even if they are not the best on the team, they are learning to participate in a team activity and having fun while doing it.
Being labeled as the “top talent” can also have a very negative effect on a child. Within the dance community, I seen quite a few instances where those children blessed with an immense talent are put under much more pressure to succeed than the rest. Growing up, I saw a few girls faced with this struggle; however, the experiences surrounding two of my studios current young stars, Mary and Jane, have definitely been the worst. Mary, started dancing competitively at the age of five and immediately showed an immense talent and passion for the art. She received her first solo at the age of seven and was able to acquire overall titles within her first competitive season. While these title were few are far between, Mary friend’s and family were proud of her no matter what her placement was. Jane had also experienced the same amount of success as Mary and had placed in the overalls at many of the competitions she attended. She, however, had a much harder time accepting the results when she did not win. At the time, we just blamed it on her young age and assured ourselves that as she matured the situation would get better.
The next year, the expectations for the girls grew. Not only did we, the teachers, push them harder, but so did their parents. We had all seen the amount of talent the girls possessed, so we wanted to nurture their talent and train it to take them as far as possible. They were each given challenging routines and required to practice at least an hour a week. The number of solos they performed also grew, and they were now expected to compete with two solos instead of one. While the girls seemed a little stressed at first, they were beyond excited to be learning skills that the “big girls” did. They stepped up to each and every challenge, showing great enthusiasm when they achieved each new skill. When competition season came around, it was obvious that all of their hard work had paid off. Both girls were now scoring higher, winning more overall titles, and beating many of the girls they had placed under the year before. One would think that this would make all parties happier; however, that didn’t seem to be the case. Because the girls has passed up many of the dancers within their division, they were now becoming each other’s competition, and the parents were not handling the situation well. Jane’s mother began making comments to Mary stating things like, “Are you okay? Your dancing seemed a bit off today,” “You did really well, but I’m not sure it was you’re best performance,” and other back-handed comments that sent Mary’s mother into a rage. While Mary’s mother never said anything directly to Jane’s family, she encourage Mary to stand up for herself and not let Jane or her mother talk her down.
This animosity and distrust between the parents soon transferred over to the girls. They were now not only competing against each other at the competitions, but they were also competing and comparing themselves against one another in the classroom. Jane, at the age of 8, went on a diet so she could be as thin as Mary, and Mary worked harder and harder every week so that she could achieve the new skill before Jane. Once the severity of their competitiveness became apparent, the teachers had a strict talk with the parents and the girls discussing how unacceptable their unsportsmanlike conduct had become. While the situation seemed to get better, the foundation of jealousy and mistrust had already been laid.
Over the next two years, the girls continued to improve and grow. The animosity between the parents continued, but it was much more subdued. The girls attempted to be kind and encouraging to one another, but it was always apparent that the mistrust was still there. They put all of their focus and energy into their new skills and were now working on solos that placed them within the top five at every competition they attended. They were performing skills that many of the senior dancers struggled with, yet these girls, at the age of eleven, were executing them with ease. While this new skill level and understanding of dance seemed to be great for the girls and their future careers, it also made them much more self critical.
Now that the girls were improving at a quicker rate, they were more given challenging skills that pushed them harder than ever. This new difficulty level did not often bode well with the girls, for they could often be found talking themselves down and getting tears of frustration when they could not execute a new skill right away. They would come in with their parents and practice their solos for hours, finding and correcting any mistake they may have made. They now knew the difference that “turning out,” not “turning out,” “emoting,” and “not emoting” could do for the scores, and they were determined to fix any possible mistake that could lead to a point deduction. The girls and their parents now expected to win, and if they didn’t, then angry parents and sulking children would be found after awards. Doing well and having fun was not good enough for them anymore. The girls had worked hard to achieve the level of a professional dancer at the age of eleven and were expected to win because of it. Dance had evolved into something completely different from when they had begun. While most of their passion for the art still seemed to remain, it was not longer just a fun hobby. It had become the most important thing in their life and their means of judging their own self worth.
Another instance where stereotyping and the pressure to succeed can have a very negative effect on a child is in the entertainment industry. For years, people have heard about “child stars gone bad,” and all of the trouble these one time superstars have gotten themselves into; however, instead of parents addressing this viscous cycle, they continue to ignore it and subject their young children to the evils of the industry. Some of the most recent victims of this “child star” cycle have been Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus. These two young women have continued to make front page news with their bad habits and sexual exposure. Cyrus has been accused of indecent exposure and been caught smoking a bong; while Lohan has been accused of excessive partying, gone through a series of car crashes, pleaded guilty to a DUI and cocaine possession, and has even spent time in jail (F. 1). Because of these actions, “List Verse” even named Lindsay Lohan as the “#10 Child Star Gone Bad” (F. 1). These two stars who have been a part of the industry since their pre-teen years, easily succumbed to the pressure that surrounded them. While society as a whole expected them to be the perfect roles models and maintain strict morals that their young fans could follow, the industry itself expected them to act like adults and be willing to “sell” themselves to improve their career.
Another young star that has recently fallen subject to these pressures is Demi Lovato. While Lovato has not been in the lime-light as long as the other two, the industry still seemed to have just as bad, if not worse, effect on her. According to an article on “Music Agenda,” Lovato entered a “treatment center” on November 1, 2010 (Vena 1). It is claimed that she was dealing with minor “emotional and physical” issues; however much speculation on the severity of these issues has been made (Vena 1). MTV News stated that an, “unnamed source close to Lovato’s family revealed… ‘She fought through eating disorders and has struggled with cutting,” (Kaufman 1). While the exact reasons behind these actions remain unclear, it is believed that the pressures of society and past bullying had led Lovato to this point. Without the need to have the “perfect” body that society demands young female stars today, would Lovato have turned to an eating disorder? It is obvious that the answer to this question and others like it will never be known; however it is reasonable to conclude that the stereotypical image of the young, thin, and beautiful female star that Lovato was pressured to be did nothing but make her situation worse.
Each of the situations above show what the pressure to succeed can have on a child and their emotional development. The children of today already have a hard time dealing with the pressures of society and the stereotypes forced upon them by the media that the added stress of parental and teacher approval can often take them to their breaking point. MedicineNet.com brought attention to this fact by reminding parents that even those children with extreme talent should not be burdened with the added pressure of success. They stated that, “Adults should not pressure a young child to focus only on winning even if exceptional [talent] is shown. A young [child] who might show natural talent in a particular [activity] must work hard and show [their own] dedication in order to succeed” (“Tips On Choosing A Sport For Your Child” 1). Forcing young success does nothing but compel a child to fall under the pressures and stereotypes that the media and society has placed before them. This causes them to believe that just being themselves is no longer good enough.
F., Chris. “Top 10 Child Stars Gone Bad.” Top 10 Lists – Listverse. Jamie Frater, 19 Apr. 2009. Web. 13Dec. 2010. <http://listverse.com/2009/04/19/top-10-child-stars-gone-bad/>.
Gould, Daniel, and Ryan Headstrom. Research in Youth Sports: Critical Issues Status. HYSA Home Page. Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, 2004. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.hollistonsoccer.org>.
Hernandez, Fabiola. “High School Stereotypes Explained. Associated Content from Yahoo! – Associatedcontent.com. Yahoo Inc., 12 June 2007. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/276956/high_school_stereotypes_explained.html?cat=25>.
Kaufman, Gil. “Demi Lovato ‘Fought Eating Disorders, Cutting,’ People Reports – Music, Celebrity, Artist News MTV.” New Music Videos, Reality TV Shows, Celebrity News, Top Stories | MTV. MTV Networks, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Dec.2010.<http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1651301/20101102/lovato__demi.jhtml>.
“Tips On Choosing A Sport For Your Child – Exercise and Fitness Tips with Workout Routines, and Mind – Body Fitness on MedicineNet.com.” We Bring Doctors’ Knowledge to You. MedicineNet.Inc., 30 Aug. 1999. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=10079>.
Vena, Jocelyn. “Demi Lovato Reportedly Had Altercation With Dancer Before Entering Treatment | Music Agenda. Latest News about Music Artists, Top Dj, Music Trends and Celebrity. Music Agenda, 04 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://musiclubber.com/demi-lovato-reportedly- hadaltercation-with-dancer-before-entering-treatment/>.