- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

In my hometown, various enrichment programs for children under age 3 are proliferating. A 2-year-old can take ballet, music or yoga or join a soccer team, among other options. Even newborns can be signed up for Kindermusik or Gymboree classes.

I’ve always considered these classes a waste of money, but I worry that I might be setting up my toddler for a lifetime of failure (which is the implication in the literature of many of these programs) if I don’t put her in an expensive class right now.

Is there any real benefit to these programs, or are they a general waste of money? Are parents denying their toddlers important developmental skills by not forking out the big bucks for ballet or music classes?

A: In my cynical estimation, these programs are marketed to parents who are seeking the status of raising what I call a “trophy child” — a child who possesses a number of impressive creative, academic, and/or athletic talents before his time, a child one can brag about to one’s friends, all of whom probably are engaged in like bragging, trying to out-brag one another.

The 2- or 3-year-old trophy child even can be trotted out at social events to perform for the crowd — the ultimate act of one-upmothership.

Enrolling children as young as 2 in these largely superfluous activities has become a way (the way?) for today’s moms to demonstrate their commitment to their children, the implicit understanding being that the mom who has her child in the most enrichment programs at the earliest age is the most conscientious mother in the neighborhood and perhaps in the entire history of the human race.

When I point out that these programs may indeed promote the development of certain esoteric skills but that they generally fail to build character and that in the final analysis, character is what truly counts, most people excuse themselves from the conversation.

I suddenly become the Grinch that’s out to steal the thunder of the modern mom. I understand. These activities not only confer status upon mothers but also are the context within which many women make friends.

A mother who takes the bold step of not enrolling her toddler in these programs separates herself from the peer group during its formative stage. She risks the loss of social opportunity, but worse, she risks being talked about behind her back. Things of this sort make me glad I’m not a mom.

The answer to your question is, yes, I think these programs are a general waste of family energy, but to any woman who might be inclined to take my advice and not enroll her child in at least one of them, I ask, “Are you willing to accept the consequences?”

I blame Tiger Woods’ parents for having started this modern mania by providing professional golf lessons to Tiger when he was a toddler. As everyone knows, Tiger went on to become perhaps the best golfer the world has ever seen. (Then there is Ernie Banks, star shortstop for the long-suffering Chicago Cubs, who did not begin playing baseball until he was 18.)

No one seems to consider where Tiger might be today if, when his parents were providing him with professional golf lessons, all the other parents in America were doing the same thing. Would he have won the Masters, or would he have been in the crowd, watching the winner walk up the 18th hole?

Personally, I admire Tiger more for his grace, manners, apparent humility and the fact that he seems to have formed a stable marriage than I do for his golfing skills. From all that I’ve seen, he seems like a generally nice guy who has figured out how not to be a regular feature on the front page of Star magazine.

I take it his parents made sure he learned to be a gentleman while he was learning to play golf. If something happened to Tiger that prevented him from ever again swinging a golf club, he still would be a gentleman. That’s what counts, you see?

Unfortunately, there are no bumper stickers that read: My child has great manners.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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