Saturday, January 06, 2007

Child Prodigy or Child Abuse?

I think the conversation started with regard to Donald Trump and the Miss USA Pageant, and the controversy surrounding Tara Conner's recent antics. The point was made that Miss USA is simply a beauty contest. I suggested that it could be termed a high-priced wet t-shirt contest, for which I was pelted painfully with peanut M&M's.

Then someone observed that in the Miss America Pageant, the contestants compete on the basis of their ability to entertain, as well as their beauty and poise, and their desire to help achieve peace on earth.

Somehow, the conversation turned to the late JonBenet Ramsey. Someone repeated the oft-mentioned opinion that poor JonBenet was being victimized (before her untimely death, of course) by her parents for training her so rigorously for these pageants, from such a young age. What kind of childhood could she have? Or could she have had, but for her tragic murder?

We used JonBenet as the example because her case happens to have been running through the news in the past couple of months, and we spoke of her in a manner of projection, as if she had not been murdered, and were still following the plan set for her by her mother--a past contestant and pageant afficionada.

JonBenet would have faced a childhood of dance training, tutoring in poise in front of audiences, as well as child pageants. She would graduate to cheerleading and teen pageants, and go on to the adult pageants, if all had gone according to her parents' plans. One has to guess that JonBenet found all this enjoyable as well, since she appeared to be enjoying herself and appeared to be applying herself.

Where she would've gone from there as she reached adulthood, would've been up to her.

Most media people who've spoken to this issue and this case, all the way back to the time of JonBenet's tragic murder when her story rose to prominence nationally, have spoken from an assumption that hers was to be a tragic life of all work and no play. The tone seemed to be (without anyone having actually said so) that her death was a merciful release from a projected unfulfilling life.

Some of my friends seemed to lean in that direction. I emphatically disagree.

No one can see the future, but we can make projections based on the lives of others and on the lives of those in analagous life paths.

Wayne Gretzky started skating at the age of two. He drilled and trained and played hard throughout his childhood. He played youth hockey on local teams with boys years older than himself. He went on to Canadian Major Junior hockey and finally, into professional hockey at the age of seventeen.

Gretzky had a full career as a professional hockey player, is considered one of the game's premier stars of all time, and continues his career as an owner of the Phoenix Coyotes National Hockey League club.

Two of his brothers also had professional hockey careers. Brent, the youngest, still plays in an east coast minor league team.

I cited the Gretzky family because of my knowledge of their careers, but I might also have cited any of a host of olympic athletes--gymnasts, figure skaters, skiers, etc, not to mention musicians many others.

It's almost always true that the best at any endeavor is the individual who began learning it in his childhood, who loves it and continues to refine his skill throughout his life. The parents' job in this area is to teach the child the need for goals and how to select them, then to help the child select goals, guide and help motivate the child toward what appears to be his early goals, and see that he has the tutoring, coaching, equipment and encouragement to allow him to achieve these goals to the best of his ability.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that this was what the Ramseys were doing with JonBenet, prior to her death. Admittedly, I didn't follow the story closely at the time, and there might be details I missed in the news coverage, but my opinion stands: when a child shows promise and aptitude in any reasonable endeavor, one ought, as a parent, to give all possible aid and encouragement.

Teach your children well.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California

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