We all know the modern lament of the over-scheduled child. Their lives, and their parent’s, are full of activities which require time, money and patience.  Time is required not only for lessons or practice, but for performances and games, and also fundraising. Many parents do it in response to the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Today idle hands seem to gravitate towards video games which many parents feel are stealing their children’s lives, or at least their childhoods from them. The response is to fill that time with baseball, scouting or church youth group to keep the child on the right track. But what happens when the track the child is on isn’t one they want to be on? Do children have a right to choose?

The Wall Street Journal had an article about When To Let Children Quit which explored this question. Parents initially choose the activit(ies) their children are involved in for any number of reasons: to expose the child to a number of different experiences to explore what they might have a passion for, because it was something they did as a kid, because it is traditionally important to the family (e.g. religious instruction), because it fits into an already busy schedule, because there are other parents they know who can help with the carpooling etc. Often the child has to be strongly encouraged to stick out a rough beginning, when they don’t have a lot of skill that the activity requires in order for it to be fun or fulfilling. The WSJ cited Ms. Lee who said “it often takes her children 6 months to warm up to a new endeavor. She is careful about how they wind down an activity; ‘They have to learn enough to quit.'”

WSJ cites unidentified “experts” who say children should start making decisions for themselves in the tween years. Deciding what activities to continue, quit or modify can be a negotiated process. Lessons can be scaled back or teachers changed. Alternative activities can be taken up. When it comes to outright quitting things can be more emotionally charged.

Lots of adults have memories of things they were forced to do well into those teen years that they will try hard to never do again because they didn’t get to make a decision about their participation. One commenter noted that he was forced to go to religious instruction when he really hated it. “To this day, I do not enter a church or temple unless its absolutely necessary, and if the event is longer than 45 minutes, I have to get up and go for a walk.” (Jeffrey Rothman)

Many parents will resist the idea of their child quitting an activity because they value perseverance and honoring a commitment. My nephew wanted to quit baseball, which he had done for almost 7 years. He cited many logical reasons why he wanted to quit (poor coaching, lack of any real team spirit, little actual play time considering the many hours of practice which were cutting into his high school homework time etc.) His father would not let him quit mid-season and felt it was important that he continue with some activity outside of school, so he finished the season and then joined the golf team.

Some parents can’t let go of the investment they have made in the activity (time, money for lessons and equipment, having to hang out with other parents they may not really care for etc.), even though they may not consciously be aware that they are expecting a ROI.

The amount of choice a child gets is very culturally dependent. Most agree that very young children cannot make good choices on truly important matters. Their choices are limited to less consequential things like would they prefer juice or milk with dinner. Cultures diverge on when it is appropriate for the child to choose for themselves even on very important decisions like a life partner. Arranged marriages are still very common in India though, as other cultures are mixed into Indian life, the idea of love marriages is gaining popularity.

How do you feel about letting your child quit an activity?

As schools continue to do more and more career preparation, aptitude testing, and credentialing, the issue of how much say a child gets in determining their own pathway and outcome becomes a very serious one for parents to consider. What advice will you offer your child if they have been tested and declared destined for engineering when they say they have hated every math class they ever took and they really like playing the violin instead?

A parent on Facebook was recently filling out her kindergarten son’s  parent forms which asked not only her permission to share her son’s data with military recruiters but also which curriculum track she thought he should be on in 9-12th grade (Smart Core or Core).  If you had to fill out that paperwork and your child should decide seven years later that the track you chose for him, or that the school chose for him, is not what he wants, will you allow him to quit?  Will you fight the school to allow him to change tracks? It is clear that society, through government, is expecting a ROI from your child for their investment in the things they chose to give him in education. Will he have the choice in his education or only in less consequential things like sports and hobbies?

Please share your thoughts about letting your child choose in the comments section.


Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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