On Sunday, everyone was silent as Aly Raisman completed an uneven bars routine for the 2012 London Olympics. Everyone except her parents.
Lynn and Rick Raisman, parents of the 18-year-old gymnast, couldn’t keep from juddering and shrieking as their daughter competed. Their roller-coaster movements and stinging cheers, however well-intentioned, bring to view the darker side of the Olympics: when parents are overly aggressive.
It’s true that some parents get caught up in the moment. “You know what [your child has] put into [the sport] and it’s just unbelievable,” Lynn Raisman said in a WHDH interview. Parents naturally get enthusiastic, squeal in high-pitched voices and forget who’s watching. Yet I find that this video goes beyond natural. What would’ve happened if Raisman fell? How much of her being an all-around gymnast is due to her parents?
These demanding parents come in all shapes, sizes, and sports. We see them with young girls in individual, not team-based, sports like gymnastics, diving, ice skating, or swimming. We’ve witnessed it in our own high school experiences—that mom who shouts drills at her goalie daughter, or that dad who self-times his son. The trend is even in the classroom; Amy Chua infamously dedicated her children’s erudite success to stringent parenting.
Why does such extreme parenting exist? Many believe that parents want to live vicariously through their children. Perhaps a mom regrets her own youth, and wants a second chance to be lived out through her kid. It could be even financial: parenting an unbelievable athlete means an easy scholarship to Princeton or Stanford.
Whatever the reason, I just can’t sympathize. As a resident of the Bay Area, I’ve seen too many crazy students and parents. Competition is at its finest here: the bastion of Silicon Valley tycoons, private high school institutions and cutthroat athletics makes it impossible for kids to be the best at everything. Yet parents desire the impossible. The child they want has a swimming trophy, a spelling bee plaque, and an invitation to Harvard.
The ending for these perfectionist children and their pushy parents isn’t happy. I’ve seen fellow classmates act out, break down in tears, or even run away from home. The effects of rigorous parenting are always permanent, and never short of sickening.
Rita Wieber, mother of the world champion gymnast Jordyn Wieber, articulated some concerns about her daughter’s hobby. “Parenting Jordyn,” she said in an interview, “was sometimes a little bit of a challenge because of her intensity. She just put so much pressure on herself.”
Cheers to Wieber. She lives in a unique world—one full of overly long training sessions for barely teenage girls—and yet she stays a mother, not a coach. Wieber realizes that recognition, support, and relief are what children need from parents; not jealousy, opposition and critique. Unlike the Raismans, Wieber hates watching her daughter preform. “They’re not going to have every practice perfect,” she freely admitted in Chicago Tribune interview. “I decided not to watch because otherwise I’d let my mind go off and worry too much.”
In short, our society should not accept excessively hardline parents. Sure, there are some people whose triumph is attributed to their commanding parents, however, those kids will never feel accomplishment on a personal level—they’re stuck sharing gold medals with their parents.