So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream, without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell's half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I've developed some insight in how to identify the latter.
1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, "how long until he or she will be able to play?" You have a serious problem.
2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can't remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a "vital" piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.
3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, "could we just get some extra padding for around the spleen, would it be o.k. to play?" Someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.
4. If when your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of 250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.
I bet you think I'm kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I'm not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?
I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it's her life, it's what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn't. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I'm telling you as a physician, that tens of thousands don't. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. It is denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to "specialize" in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I'm not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.