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Pushing, Not Passion, Ruins Childhood

Acoustic guitar
Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

My husband found his passion at an impossibly young age. It seemed impossibly young in the '80s, that is. Today, kids are thrown into a world of "passion" the minute they can talk.

Ever have a parent tell you that a 4-year-old has perfect pitch? Right. How about those YouTube videos of singing, piano playing, dancing or drumming stars? You know, the ones where the stars of the show are barely even out of diapers?

Try not to confuse that with passion.

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A recent article in the New York Times Motherlode blog paints a rather dreary picture of passion. Parents become such "passion pushers" that they fail to allow children the freedom of curiosity. While that might be true, it's not passion that's the problem—it's passion-pushing parents.

My husband picked up his very first bass guitar at age 11. As the story goes, it was opportunity, not unbridled passion, which caused him to choose the bass over, say, the guitar. In that particular neighborhood garage band in the Berkshires, a bass player was in demand (guitar, not so much.) But once he picked it up, he found that he couldn't put it down. At 14, he taught lessons to other kids. At 16, he went pro and toured with Arlo Guthrie. It might have been chance that sparked his interest in the bass, but passion kept him going. To this day, when he walks on that stage and straps on that bass in front of thousands of screaming fans, I can see the passion in his eyes.

That's where he belongs.

Kids do have passion. When you allow them to experience childhood unplugged, they find their passion.

It should be noted, however, that his passion for music (a passion his parents didn't really know what to do with, so they simply stood back and cheered him on) wasn't his only passion. For years, he continued to play baseball and football. And he really really, really wanted to be a veterinarian. Later, he focused on his love of math and history. He did all things children should do. He spent endless hours outside, he spent time with friends and family, he did his homework and he explored all of his interests.

But he always returned to the bass because the bass is his passion.

The difference between a passionate child in the '80s and a passionate child today is that the passion pushers take over in this race-to-the-finish-line time of parenting. While my husband's parents helped him buy one bass and one amp and then told him to go for it, a passion pusher of today would have him enrolled in every possible musical opportunity and demand hours upon hours of practice. In short? A passion pusher would kill the passion.

Kids do have passion. When you allow them to experience childhood unplugged, they find their passion. Free play, a rare commodity in the lives of many overscheduled and overtired children, is the single best way to give your child the gift of passion. Through free play, children explore their interests, their fears, the world around them and just about everything else. Through free play, children figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Passion pushers don't allow for that, though. There's no time for something as gratuitous as free play, when the future of an 8-year-old is at stake, after all.

Passion doesn't have to be one big thing. Passion can be comprised of several little things. Passion can mean moving from thing to thing and having a zest for a little bit of everything.

Children of today are losing childhood to the pursuit of excellence, not passion. Parents are so focused on the end goal that they forget to allow children to experience the here and now. Kids are high on stress and low on time to just be kids.

My 8-year-old daughter has passion. If you ask her what her passion is, she'll blurt out "Irish dance!" without a second thought. But that's not her only source of passion. She's passionate about drawing, fort building, playing with stuffed animals, gardening, baking, exploring nature, caring for animals and approximately 1,000 other things. Will any of these passions be her golden ticket to a lifetime of success and happiness? It's too soon to tell. But yesterday she created a squirrel-feeding zone to divert the squirrels away from the freshly painted birdhouse she made two days prior. She feels pretty happy and successful as a result.

So for now, we'll stick with the good feelings that emerge simply from being a child.

Passion doesn't have to be one big thing. Passion can be comprised of several little things. Passion can mean moving from thing to thing and having a zest for a little bit of everything. The very essence of passion is that it's personal—unique to each individual. Parents can't demand it, create it or inspire it. Parents can only stand back and support their kids when—and if—they find it.

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Because lack of one specific passion does not equal a lifetime of dissatisfaction, you know, and some people find their true passions much later in life.

Let the children play. Let them have passion on their own terms. Let them explore every little interest and engage in boundless curiosity. Let go of the future for a moment so that your kids can enjoy the present .

Only then will they find their way.

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Image by a Katie Hurley

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