I am an artist. I am also a dance teacher. I have been teaching since 2001, but officially in my own studio since 2007. What I have noticed over the years is a significant decline in the physical, mental and emotional capacities of children. I have noticed this decline in an exponential pattern over the past 5 years. What used to take me 8 hours to teach, now takes me 16 hours to teach.
I have noticed a decline in physical stamina, dexterity, agility, strength and muscle tone. I have noticed slower mental processing of instructions and directions -- children seem to have to be consistently reminded of the same thing several times before it is understood and processed and then completed by their bodies. I have noticed slower decision making abilities. I have noticed a decrease in the ability to voice their honest emotions. I have noticed a decrease in emotional expression as dancers. I have noticed an exponential increase in fear of being wrong! This concerns me a lot.
The fear of being wrong. Where does this come from? Some children I teach become immobilized in fear of being wrong -- saying the wrong thing or making a mistake... There seems to be a need for constant approval and praise. Yes praise is important, but so is making mistakes. Making mistakes is very important. If we don't make mistakes, we will never the get the feeling of achievement when we finally get it right! If you're a dancer, and you've been working on something for a while, not getting it right, and finally it clicks and you get it right, you shout "YES! I GOT IT." It's an awesome feeling -- trust me! The frustrating part as a teacher is the constant need for approval/praise and/or fear of making a mistake that has developed in society lately...What this leads to is very self-conscious, intimidated, unconfident children. It can also lead to ego...
Kids are constantly looking at other kids in the mirror or beside them to copy them because they don't want to be doing it wrong...of course if the kid beside them does the step wrong, they are going to do it wrong too. They are so afraid of being wrong, that they never fully commit to the dance steps, they are cautious, and not 100% present.
When a confident kid does the steps, he doesn't need to look at the students beside him. He just does the step. If he is wrong, the teacher will correct him. He does not take this as a bad thing. The teacher is doing her job by pointing out where he needs to fix himself so that he can improve his dancing skills. It is not a personal attack. He will become physically and mentally aware of his mistake thanks to his teacher's critique, he will process the change, focus,and try again. He still does not need to look in the mirror at the other kids, because he believes he can fix the mistake and get it right. When he does the step well, his teacher gives him praise, and he feels good inside, like he accomplished something. Teachers are not dumb. They can tell when a student has really tried to consciously fix their mistake, and this puts teachers at ease and increases their confidence in the student. On the converse, if the student were fearful, he would not process the directions because he is not fully present...he will continue to make the same mistakes because of the fear that is in his way.
FEAR. FEAR of making mistakes. Making mistakes is totally OKAY. Totally. The difference in being successful or failing is how we respond to the mistake and how we respond to any critique about the mistake. If we respond with FEAR, we will only continue to perpetuate fear and lose confidence. If we respond with acceptance and responsibility, we will process the information, and make a change so that we may correct the mistake.
FEAR. FEAR of making mistakes means our children will always take the easy road. They will never take risks for fear of failure. They will never live to their full potential. They will always have doubt in their minds when they make a decision. They will have a hard time staying present in the moment. They will always try to fit into the crowd and avoid standing out. They will rarely voice their honest opinion for fear of what others think. They may not stand up for what they believe in because others don't believe in it. And worst of all, they will quit or give up.
There is only so much a teacher can do if she is teaching a child for only 1 hour once per week. But the rest of the time, the people around them can encourage them to reduce fear and build confidence. Confidence doesn't come from being perfect all the time -- confidence comes by way of making mistakes and then fixing them -- it makes you feel stronger that you won't make the mistake next time because you know what to do now...
Constant need for approval/praise. I'm sure you've heard of the "no fail" rules some schools have adopted. What does this perpetuate? Well, in the long run it creates a complacent society. A group of people that don't really try hard, because, well, if you can't fail, why not.
There is saying "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"...The no fail rules of some schools means... not a lot. Because you don't need to work really hard to pass. I remember last year, I asked a group of students "Do you feel that you have the RIGHT to perform on stage? Or do you feel that you EARN the privilege to perform on stage?"
....Can you guess how majority of them responded?
And what about honest genuine praise? I have heard some parents praise their kids like no tomorrow even after they stood on stage with no smile barely moving or doing the steps. "Oh my God! That was fantastic. So good! Too good! Too Good! You were beautiful my angel!" I get it, I know. To each parent, their child is their angel. I have an angel in my life too. But I care too much about her to ever set her up for failure in life by giving her over the top false praise if it wasn't earned...
On the other hand I have heard some parents say "That was really good sweetie. I liked your dance. Next, time though, I need you to smile more and put more energy into the steps. Could you do that?" --Kid #2 here will feel a sense of accomplishment, but will also know there is room for improvement, and so long as they know this is a good thing, this will increase their belief in themselves.
For Kid #1 on the other hand, it might go two ways if the parents do this all the time regardless of
how good or bad the student did:
1) Develop an EGO like no tomorrow so that if anyone even tries to critique them they will get defensive, and might even quit with the notion that "the teacher doesn't know what they're talking about" or "I don't like her" (simply because they tried to critique you to help you become a better dancer!!??)
2) Cry. They will cry and emotionally shut down anytime anyone tries to critique them. This child will lose the ability to feel strong and confident over time because they only used to being praised and they can't handle criticism. And if you're an adult reading this, you know there is an abundance of criticism in the world -- and if we don't prepare kids for it, they won't know how to handle it. The real world becomes tough for people who are not given the opportunity to handle constructive criticism.
...To be continued...
Food for thought: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201010/parenting-fear-failure-revisited