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Parents: Stop pushing your children to be the best
Do your best
When did "do your best" get replaced with "be THE best," asks Erin Stewart. - photo by Ray Woo,

I received a horrifying email from a test prep company today that basically told me that my children are destined to be unemployed slobs if I don’t buy an academic enrichment program immediately.

It said: “I’m going to be blunt with you: if you aren’t working today to get your child ahead of the pack, it means they’re falling behind even if school just started. It’s imperative that you start right now to give your child the advantage they need to achieve their full potential. Don’t wait another second!”

Sound the alarms! I have to act fast or my child could end up ... (ominous drumroll, please) ... average! (Gasp!)
Companies like this drive me crazy because they are preying on well-intentioned parents who want their children to succeed. The problem is, more and more parents are buying into this nonsense and our kids are paying for it. In my area, for example, it is routine for parents to enroll their 7-year-olds in a summer test prep course so they can score in the top percentile on the Gifted and Talented test in second grade. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of my daughter’s school somehow now ranks in the top 97 percent of students. How’s that for fuzzy math?

And when they’re not preparing for an intelligence test, her peers have handwriting tutors, after-school enrichment courses and an assortment of extracurricular activities that make my head spin.

But, really, how else can they be the best? That’s what it's all about, right? Having the best child. Being the best parent. Winning parenthood and instilling that same drive in our children.

When did it become a crime to be average? To work hard and read on grade level rather than five grade levels ahead? The old adage of "do your best" has been replaced with the new childhood mantra of "be THE best."

The thing is, they can’t all be the best. It’s statistically and emotionally impossible. By always pushing and pushing, we are giving kids artificially inflated egos with zero actual self-esteem. They’ll never feel good enough or worthy enough because they won’t always be THE best.

So I’m going to say what I always want to say to the mom or dad at school who is telling me about little Johnny’s thousands of achievements and after-school tutors so he can be the raging success they always knew he would be:

Settle down! Take a breath. Take a step back. Take a minute and look at your child. Is he happy? Is he doing these things because he wants to or because you want bragging rights? What kind of childhood is he having?

My favorite line of the email from the test prep company was a warning that if I am not actively helping my child excel above her classmates, then my child "is in serious danger of falling behind — which could put educational and career opportunities out of (her) reach. Forever.” (Yes, lightning did strike inches away from me as I read that last line. It was crazy.)

Well, I believe childhood doesn’t last forever, either. Children get a brief and brilliant window to use their imaginations, learn through play and discover their strengths.

You are the parent. Only you can protect this window of childhood. You get to say when enough is enough, or whether you will let the uber-competitive rat race of the world infiltrate childhood.

I say preserve it. Hold childhood sacred. Teach your child to work hard and keep commitments. Teach your children to always do their best.

And never let the world tell them that’s not good enough.