Should Kids Be Made to Do Activities They Don't Want to Do?

Cary McNeal

Flickr photo by Sir Mervs
Swim season is approaching, and my almost-9-year-old recently informed her mother and me that she will not be participating this year with our neighborhood swim team. ORLY?

She said the same thing last year but changed her mind at the last minute when she realized her friends would be in the pool all summer and she'd be missing out. We strongly encouraged her not to quit last year but never forced her to participate. It worked: She ended up swimming but did so by her own choice.

This year, though, we're not sure what to do. My first instinct was, "Okay, we won't make you," but then I started thinking, which is always dangerous.

My daughter is a very good athlete and one of the fastest swimmers on the team. She's been swimming with the same kids for three years now and has been on the same relay team with the same three girls since the beginning. Part of me thinks she owes it to all of them to stick with it at least another year or two.

She also had a disappointing (to her) season last summer because she was among the youngest in her age group. The year before, she'd been older in her group and won all the time. Last year, she experienced the singular joy of getting her butt kicked sometimes. A good lesson, but a hard one.

When we asked her why she didn't want to swim, she dodged the question at first, but finally fessed up that she hates the practices. Loves the meets, hates the practices. Who doesn't? The practices are short -- 45 minutes -- but happen every weekday at 8 a.m. from mid-May to the end of June, and my daughter hates getting up in the morning. Join the club, kid. Guess who has to take your butt up there every day?

So now we're thinking about not giving her the option. We want her to swim. We might just make her. It's good exercise, it's good social time, and it gets her out of the house and away from the TV, where she'd sit all day if we let her. My wife and I also think it's important to teach our child the value of being part of a team and sticking with something, even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard.

What do you think? Should a child be made to do activities they don't want to do if you think it will be good for them in the long run?

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