A few years ago, the news reported a spate of Chinese children cutting off their own pinky finger, so that their parents would stop forcing them to play the piano. These kids detested the piano, but their parents wouldn't listen, so they mutilated themselves as a desperate measure.
Today I will write about why it's bad to force your kids to play the piano over their continuous objections.
(This also applies to the violin or trombone or any musical instrument.)
I am not talking about the case where little Jimmy likes the piano and occasionally gets stuck, and his dad delivers a pep talk that gets Jimmy over the hump and back to happy-land. I'm also not talking about the case where the kid vacillates between liking and disliking the piano, and his mom encourages him to stick with it long enough to give it a fair chance.
I'm talking about the situation where a kid has played the piano long enough to know whether he likes it (let's say a year), and then consistently states his dislike of it, over the course of many months. In that case, the parent should let him quit. Alas, many do not. Many parents, especially Chinese ones, resort to years of threats, cajoling, bribery, shouting to force their child to continue.
This harms the child much more than the benefit he gets from playing the piano.
The merits of learning a musical instrument are oft repeated by the well-intentioned parent:
- learning discipline
- enjoyment later in life
- Mozart makes you smarter
Rarely have I heard anyone discuss the damage done by forcing the kid. I can state it in one sentence:
By thwarting the child's natural inclinations, day in and day out, you teach him to stifle his intuition.
There is a popular book Now, Discover Your Strengths, which is lauded amongst many Fortune 500 companies. Its premise is that people achieve maximum success (and enjoyment) by channeling their time into activities that they enjoy and excel at, and minimize time spent on tasks they dislike or struggle with.
As an example, let's say an executive loves coming up with new product strategy, and hates public speaking. Instead of getting a speaking coach to do hours of remedial training, the executive would focus his time on strategy and hire a representative to give talks on his behalf.
Of the people I've met over the years, the most successful ones followed this philosophy.
Another thing they do is follow their intuition. They trust their gut, and then learn from the outcome, which hones those instincts. Over a lifetime, their intuition becomes attuned to coming up with the next innovative idea, or the smartest strategy.
This is the very thing that takes a blow when the parent insists that the child ignore his passionate biases. It may be good for raising a drone -- a slightly smarter than average drone if we believe the Mozart effect. But if you want to foster creativity and that precious spark of innovation? Trust your kid to know their own mind.
When I was 13:
Me: "I want to quit the piano."
My mom: "No."
[many variations on this]
My mom: "When you grow up and become an adult, you'll thank me."
Me: "I will not."
I was right.