Competitive Disadvantage

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

All parents are competitive when it comes to their children.

We can't help it. They bear our genetic imprint, so in a sense that's our DNA out there catching a fly ball or tap-dancing in the spring recital. We want it to make a good showing and outdo the other parents' DNA.

But wise parents quickly learn to temper their urge to push the kids toward stardom. Or at least they learn to redirect the urge into more productive areas.

Here's what I mean: Parents can be shockingly competitive when it comes to their kids playing sports. Sports! One of the longest of long-shot endeavors. You might as well buy little Johnny a Mega Millions ticket every week for life. His odds of hitting a jackpot are surely better than his odds of making it as a professional athlete. He's far more likely to make it as a professional accountant or a professional middle manager.

So if you're going to yell yourself hoarse, do it while urging Junior on to greater math achievement or business success or something. Send him out in the front yard with a pitcher of lemonade and a sales quota. Moving product - now there's a life skill that will help him dominate his peers.

Where else do parents let their competitive hormones overcome their brains? The stage. All parents harbor some desire to see their kids under the bright lights.

I don't know what combination of beauty, talent and luck adds up to a dazzling career as a child star. But pray every day that your kids don't have it. Because when I look out across the celebrity universe, I see some really messed up people.

Does the name Lindsay Lohan ring a bell? Can you honestly tell me that child wouldn't have been better off as a dental hygienist?

And then there's the area of competition that I consider the dumbest of all: The race to get into the best colleges.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for education. The more the better. But where you went to college matters for about 15 minutes on the first day of a job. After that, it's all about who can do the work and who can't. Being able to sing the Yale fight song really doesn't impress today's demanding bosses.

You want to see this elite-college chase end? Remove parents from the decision-making process and leave it to the nation's 17-year-olds. They'll take a more pragmatic approach. A kid that age is more likely to choose a school based on what kind of snacks are in the vending machines.

I know some parents will object to my outlook. They'll inform me that their DNA-carrier is currently a Harvard senior trying to decide between continuing his career on Broadway or signing with the Boston Red Sox. And they'll intimate that their high expectations are a big reason for all the success.

And I'll suppress all feelings of inferiority while congratulating them through clenched teeth.