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A CHILD is born. A time of joy and wonder. But remember that each second is precious to your child's development. You want her to get into a good school - yes? And to excel at her SATS, 11-plus, GCSEs, A/S and A-levels? Of course, you'll want her to get into a good university? And to find a well-paid, high-status job that will be the envy of all your friends? These are just some of the pleasures that await the hyper-parent. They are, however, pleasures that must be earned through much parental effort and investment.
The good news is that hyper-parenting can begin even before your baby is born. Play Mozart and whale music to your bump, in order to stimulate mental activity and ensure increased brainpower. When the baby finally emerges, surround her with bright and stimulating toys. She may seem more interested in the buttons on your shirt or a discarded crisp packet, but persevere nonetheless. You might also want to invest in some educational videos, like those produced by the Baby Einstein Company. One such product is a DVD called The Baby Galileo: Discovering the Sky, which promises a multi-sensory learning experience 'investigating the stars, the sun, clouds, planets and whirling galaxies far away' and features a musical score by Mozart, Chopin, Strauss and Tchaikovsky.
Now spend hours reading Ofsted reports and league tables and surfing the Internet in order to work out which primary school is most desirable. Do all you can to secure that all-important catchment area address. Take out a vast mortgage, pretend you live with your mother, or exchange your comfortable three-bed semi with garden for a one-room flat with rising damp.
Once your child has started school, hire tutors in maths, English and verbal reasoning to prepare him for secondary school entrance exams. Music lessons might also give him an advantage. Free time? Of course that's important too. Treat him to a stimulating tour of your local museums and galleries, making sure to point out any interesting architectural features along the way. Holidays should not be wasted - they provide a wonderful opportunity to slot in some extra maths coaching and tennis lessons. Not to mention the Japanese classes.
Unless you do all this, your child is likely to end up as a member of the teenage hordes we all know about from our newspapers. Overweight, under-motivated and out of control, subject to police curfews and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. It seems we no longer trust our children to turn out reasonably well-adjusted and intellectually curious. Although there was a world before Gina Ford's parenting regimes and school league tables. Why have we forgotten?
Parents are full of fear. We don't trust our education system to deliver the learning experience we would wish for our children. We take no comfort in the ever-improving GCSE and A-level results as we worry that they merely demonstrate falling standards. We read countless newspaper reports on childhood obesity, but our terror of paedophiles means we won't let our children run off to the local park to burn off the calories.
We also live in an era when it's very difficult for a family to live on just one salary. Both parents feel compelled to work and both feel guilty at the lack of time spent with their children. On top of this, the media besieges them with notions of 'good' and 'bad' parenting, so that 'quality time' has come to mean something commodified and organised.
There is huge pressure on parents to keep their children mentally and physically stimulated at all times. But children need time and space to develop their independence and exercise their imaginations, to play with friends and siblings, perhaps even to discover the pleasures of reading, writing and drawing for themselves. Good parenting does demand stimulating young minds with new challenges and experiences, but surely the true goal of parenting should be more to do with fostering feelings of happiness and self-worth and less to do with educational success? I'm willing to bet that most of our parents didn't have our weekends scheduled and timetabled down to the last violin lesson. And look at the illiterate, innumerate, uncultured hoodlums we turned out to be.
by E E Harding
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