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Stop Grooming Children for Greatness So Early!

Photograph by Twenty20

Several weeks ago, I read about the Babypod, a small speaker mothers-to-be can insert into the vagina so the fetus can more clearly hear any music they care to share with their developing baby. According to research (sponsored by the makers of Babypod, of course), "a fetus is able to detect sounds starting at week 16, and... external sounds are perceived as distorted whispers." Hence what Jezebel referred to as the the "musical tampon." Researchers concluded that technological innovations such as the Babypod could help rule out fetal deafness and also stimulate the brain circuits involved in language and communication, allowing a child's education to begin in utero.

Because obviously, waiting until after birth is not soon enough.

After first reading about this product, I experienced a brief moment of lunacy in which I thought to myself: that's pretty cool. I considered what might have been during my own pregnancy if only I had gotten to Emily before her father started playing Pavement videos for her.

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Then my sanity returned to me.

I once read a book by Sam Apple on the baby industry. At the time, I couldn't believe the pressure placed upon parents to start grooming their children for greatness with prenatal products such as the Bellysonic and the BabyPlus—precursors to the Babypod—and then, after birth, with classes like Little Maestros and Baby Fingers, intended to nurture baby's burgeoning genius and talent.

Now I know that the pressure doesn't end there. As infants grow into toddlerhood, they face heavy competition to get into the best preschools. After that, there is now college prep for elementary schoolers. And the demands upon parents—and, by extension, their children—only build from there.

...I believe the sense of urgency so many parents feel to boost their children's brain functioning in any way possible is ridiculous and, in many cases, detrimental...

While I myself have never used a product like the Bellysonic, I am now the type of mother who brings her 18-month-old to weekly Music Together classes, and to Mommy and Me Story Time at our local independent bookshop. My daughter has an overflowing bookcase, a subscription to Hello magazine, a handful of Baby Einstein products, and even a baby-sized grand piano. I still dutifully read the weekly emails that tell me which products and books are developmentally appropriate for my growing child. This is how I determine what she should receive at Christmas and on her birthday.

But at the same time, I believe the sense of urgency so many parents feel to boost their children's brain functioning in any way possible is ridiculous and, in many cases, detrimental. I learned over the course of my own life that there is no one perfect path to a fulfilling future, and to assume as much is to limit oneself. Higher education is not always the answer and, instead of climbing an industry ladder, my daughter may one day want to pave her own road to the future.

My job as a parent is merely to expose her to as much of the world as possible and, if I discern a particular area of interest, to support that. And while I may sometimes project my own longings onto my daughter (see: the baby-sized yoga mat that remains rolled up in the corner of the living room,) these unconscious attempts to create a mini me shouldn't be forced.

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A recent story in the New York Times asked "Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?" It seems the answer is "yes." According to a survey on teen stress conducted by the American Psychological Association, one in three teenagers report that stress has made them sad or depressed. And the biggest source of stress is school.

So when we see a product created in order to jump start education in utero, our reactions should probably be more shock than awe.

Because when I read that the biggest source of stress is school, I suspect that the pressure toddlers and pre-teens and teenagers feel is not necessarily self-induced but, rather, is born of the desire to please the people in their life they love the most.

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