Should You Try to Influence Your Child’s Interests?

inflence your child's interests
Is 7 years old a bit too soon to start envisioning sending my daughter off to university… and then a career? The future comes quickly!

Rather like last week, this post is about a personal situation in which I currently find myself. It has to do with whether or not, and if so, then how much, you should try to influence your child’s interests. That’s the macro. Here’s the micro:

As the summer approaches, many a parents’ fancies turn to thoughts of daycamps. As I live in a major urban centre, there is no limit to the choice of daycamps my wife and I can send our daughter to.

As a child, my parents sent me to a few daycamps in the summer  months, and I never thought too much about it. I honestly can’t say how much they thought about which daycamp to send me to, but I’d be surprised if their deliberations were more involved than confirming that  the cost, hours, and location were all suitable. I doubt they spent much time considering the theme or purpose of the daycamp, let alone whether it would help me in my career. Then again, they have surprized me before, so who knows.

What I do know for sure is this:

My wife and I are very carefully thinking about the price, hours, and location of a daycamp for our daughter this summer, but we are also struggling with whether or not we should try to steer her interests in a particular direction by sending her to a particular daycamp. Part of me feels bad in even asking the question. “She’s a kid, for goodness sake!” I keep telling myself; let her be a kid. She’s got plenty of time to find her own way. Besides, by trying to influence your child’s interests, you may well be setting yourself up for teenage rebellion, where she goes in the exact opposite direction, just out of spite.

Then again, I know that it is common in many parts of the world for parents to make all kinds of decisions that they think are in their child’s best interests, regardless of what the child him-or-her self may think. I tutored a dentist in Taiwan who had planned his son’s education through to his second Master’s degree. I remember thinking that I had misunderstood until my student explained it to me several times. Then I remembered a story that he had told me a few weeks previous to that. The house that he lived in was what we in Canada would probably call a townhouse. My student and his brother and sister owned and occupied the three-unit building. Their father had bought it for them when they were starting out on their own (if you can call it that), because he wanted them to live in close physical proximity to each other so they could help and support each other through life. Noble intentions, but more than a little overbearing, I figured. I really don’t want to be that guy.

So, here I am, wondering what to do. My daughter seems to show an interest for things scientific, but I think that that may at some level be an attempt to please me. She also shows a truly creative and original mind, but when she’s showcasing that side of herself, it’s in more of a literary, poetic way. This may be her true self, which is great (really!), but how is she ever going to support herself on word-play and creative fiction? Shouldn’t we encourage her to use her creativity for practical problem solving? Isn’t that what engineers (good ones, anyway) do? Take what they know, and then find or create a solution that fits within the limits of available resources?

There are several engineering camps that are available at our local university. Maybe we should enrol her in one of those programs. But then there is another choice to make. They offer several girls-only camps. On the one hand, young boys do tend to be more rambunctious and take up a disproportionate amount of instructors’ attention (especially when the instructor is not an experienced teacher), but on the other hand, should girls be cloistered away? The proverbial real world doesn’t work that way, and would we be sending her the message that she can’t compete with boys?

The more I think about it, the more I think my parents had it right: make sure the cost, hours, and location are suitable, and then let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise, my daughter’s daycamp is going to be far too stressful for her dear old Dad.

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