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Father Forcing Extracurricular Participation
Q: My fifth-grader plays an instrument in the school program and my third-grader will be offered the program in the next school year. This is the only time I have insisted that my children do something they may have otherwise chosen not to participate in. I feel it is too great an opportunity to pass up. How do I determine if I've made the right choice?
A: You're not talking about determining if this is the right "choice" to make for your kids because "insisting" that they both play instruments in the school program is a demand, not a request. You imply that their playing in the school's music program is "something they may have chosen not to participate in" were it not for your insisting upon their participation. If they would not have elected to participate in this music program unless you forced them to do so, I find your demands to be controlling and counter-productive. Forcing kids to participate in extracurricular activities is unfair and disrespectful. It gives them the message that you can force them to participate in activities based on your interests in these activities, regardless of their level of interest in these activities. Forcing them to participate in activities they haven't chosen might cause them to perform poorly in these activities and to display an indifference or open dislike regarding their participation. These attitudes and behaviors would be their way of getting back at you for forcing them to participate. In essence they are saying, "You might be able to force me to do this, but you can't force me to like it or to excel in it."
Parents have every right to make the case to their kids about the benefits and pleasure attached to activities that they want their kids to experience. They do not have the right to bribe, punish, or shame them into participating in activities that their kids do not wish to experience. Telling your kids that they will disappoint you if you don't participate in activities that you want them to take part in may lead them to believe that they are appreciated and loved only when they do what want them to do. That's a very dangerous message to send kids about conditional love and appreciation. Please do your best to discover why you have chosen to force your kids to participate in this particular program. Ask yourself not what's at stake for them if they don't participate in this music program; ask yourself what you lose if they don't participate because this is really about you, not them.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.