Video Producers: Angelica Cucueco & Will Batchelor

Article by: Georgina Pekin

How young is too young? One of the most pressing questions for parents is when to start enrolling their child in structured activities, whether it’s competitive sport, music or academics. There is vast research on the topic that has created such controversy as to what is best for children in terms of proper growth and development, both mentally and physically.

Sport is an area that shares this controversial topic. Should four-year olds play competitive soccer? Basketball? Hockey? What are the effects of a competitive environment on a child lacking a strong sense of resilience, sportsmanship and confidence? Without early pressure from parents or coaches, children will not be naturally inclined to see winning as a live-or-die proposition, but rather be interested in the simple ability to play. For this reason, it’s commonly thought that enrolling children in a system that prioritize competition and winning is taxing on their self-confidence and the ability to handle loss. It will also be difficult to introduce since young children often can’t grasp the basic rules of competitive sport concepts such as passing to teammates.

As high schoolers, we are obviously not yet in a position to make such decisions, and we are no longer in the same situation as the young; however, this topic provides interesting reflection of the culture we live in and possibly families or friends we know and how their children are being raised. Quite possibly many of us as high school students have our own experiences of being forced into activities we did not want to do. The outcomes do vary, and some children grow up to be grateful for the pressure as it has helped them to gain success, but this is most definitely not always the case.

One culture of particular interest, highlighted by BT this week, is China and its gymnasts. Gymnastics is a sport with ticking time limit, as rarely do gymnasts succeed at the professional level past the age of 18, thus the emphasis for starting them young. But is physical hindrance valid enough to strip a child of his youth to be put into intense training camps from ages as young as five years old? In China, gymnasts garner the most number of gold medals in the Olympic games, second to divers; thus, China is home to some of the most grueling gymnastics programs that constantly prepare the next generation for guaranteed success. This obviously takes a toll on a child’s wellbeing, and undoubtedly challenges what we think to be the basic morals upon which a child should be raised. For these gymnasts, childhood is spent on balance beams, parallel bars and vaults, because in here lie their dreams. Their childhoods belong to sweat and tears.

Read more about how China trains their young gymnasts and the controversy surrounding such practices: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2182127/How-China-trains-children-win-gold–standing-girls-legs-young-boys-hang-bars.html

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