1/18/2013 Programming Children for Success (or failure)
I love working with kids. Besides being a parent I have taught private music lessons to kids and have been involved in children’s church, Sunday school and puppet ministries. I have also worked in a half dozen different music stores waiting on parents and children as they begin their musical journey together. Candidly, sometimes I cringe at what comes out of the mouths of loving and well-meaning parents.
“What is the minimum number of months that we can rent? We want to make sure that Johnny sticks with this before we commit to a lot of payments.”
“We are just going to get a cheap instrument. Sally never stays with anything very long.”
“She says that she wants to learn to play the cello but we’ll see. I want to make sure she really likes it first. I don’t want this sitting in the attic.”
I have lost track of how many times I have heard something like this. If the parent was standing there by themselves it would be bad enough because I know that it is hard for a child to excel when parental expectations are really low but such is not typically the case. Typically, the child is standing there with ears wide open being programmed for failure. I can hear their inner monolog now, “that’s right daddy. I am just a total flake. I won’t ever do well at anything. I am a quitter.”
Now, don’t hate me – I’m just the messenger. I know that this is not the intention of any loving parent. They would not be looking at musical instruments in the first place if they didn’t want the best for their child. I am sure that they have no idea that their words are programming their kids. Maybe they were programmed in the same way by their parents. Also, they probably don’t know that having their child learn a musical instrument is perhaps the single most productive developmental exercise they can do. Over twenty years of research has show time and again that children who learn a musical instrument have dramatically higher I.Q. scores, better grades, do much better at math and science, are more self-confident and are more socially adept. It is truly aerobics for the brain. In high school upper math courses and band or orchestra are typically scheduled at different times. They are competing for the same kids.
At the risk of being accused of having tunnel vision let me slide further out on the limb. Since when are education courses or lessons optional when young children are concerned? Can you imagine a parent going into their child’s school and asking that their Billy or Sally Sue be exempt from math because they don’t like it? “Gee, Mr. Gregory, I know that the curriculum requires math but we all have calculators these days and do you really think our Billy is ever going to need to design a bridge or figure a vector?” The teacher would look at that parent like they had three eyes. Part of the responsibility of being a parent is to train our children and help them develop. This does not mean that we force-feed music down the throats of our kids if they really, really hate it but normally this is not the case. It is normal for interest to wax and wane over time for a child learning any skill. We help them get past the valleys of indifference and back to the next hill of excitement and interest. Most children, especially school age children, understand the concept of commitment. “Billy, mom and dad are taking money out of our household budget to get you the instrument and lessons you wanted. You have to practice four or five days a week for the next year if we do this.” Will they forget their commitment sometimes? Sure they will. That’s when we remind them of their choice and tell them how proud we are that they are learning to play; how much we enjoy going to their recitals and hearing their solos – always programming for success and never failure.