It's back-to-school season and fundraising time once again.
My family is already over it. The pressure on kids to raise the most money is too much.
Other moms and parenting experts agree that the amount of competition has to stop.
My heart sank when my high schooler sent my husband and me a panicked text this week. She wrote that she had four days to sell a bunch of popcorn to raise money for her sports team.
"GUYS, PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!" she wrote.
She attached a link to a virtual fundraiser selling "premium popcorn." Fifty percent of the profits, according to the blurb, would go toward "team apparel and any additional equipment needs."
It felt like "Groundhog Day." I'd lost track of the number of times I'd implored friends and family to reach into their pockets to help cover the expense of extracurricular activities such as sports and field trips.
I knew that fundraising for school was a rite of passage for kids and parents. I'd done it through gritted teeth — embarrassed that we were putting out our hands yet again, albeit for a good cause.
This time, however, there was added pressure. I read in the small print that there was a leaderboard. My child would be ranked by the amount of money she raised. Everyone on the team had the same $300 goal. But they were being pitted against each other.
The winner would be whoever rattled the tin the loudest. Their name would be up in lights on the leaderboard — high above the kids who'd tried and failed to generate as much cash as them.
One mom described 'the competitive edge' as 'really bad news'
It seemed to be against the spirit of charity. It sucked. And when I asked around, I found that other parents felt the same way.
"I'm all for school fundraisers, but the competitive edge is really bad news," Susan Avery, a high-school teacher and mom of one, told me. "It's important for kids to learn the concept of giving back and helping their community, but it shouldn't be a contest."
Kelly Miller, a mother of two, agreed. The marketing specialist said her football-player son and his teammates had to provide the cellphone numbers of prospective donors — or else.
"The coaches said that if they didn't come up with 20 names, they'd have to run for half of practice," Miller said. "None of these kids want to run for a half hour straight. I thought it was obnoxious."
It upped the ante, she said.
"People don't know the family's situation, and it's not fair to make the assumption that you have two dozen contacts who can give you 10 bucks each," the mom added.
As for the trend for ranking fundraisers, she was as frustrated as me. We decided that nobody should feel like less of a person because they raised $200 versus $1,000.
I'm worried that my kid might beat herself up for not raising enough cash
Reena Patel, a psychologist and parenting specialist, told me that it's a common problem in schools.
"The focus should be on learning, socialization, and enjoying yourself," she said. "It shouldn't be stressing about, 'Oh, my goodness, I haven't met my quota to sell X, Y, and Z."
She said that parents were concerned about the pressure, too. In many cases, the expert said, they take on the "burden" of the fundraising themselves — anything to stop their kid from feeling judged for not making the grade.
Patel recommended that parents explain to their children that fundraising is optional and the amount of money they bring to the table doesn't define their self-worth.
"It's a great skill to instill," Patel, a licensed educational board-certified behavior analyst, said. "We don't want to create a society where it's all about numbers and, 'How much do you make compared to how much I make?' Is that really how we want our dinner-table conversations to be?"
Not at my house. I checked my daughter's sports-team leaderboard. She's in 18th place out of 24 girls. According to the website, she has less than eight hours to meet her goal.
It's tempting for me to open my wallet and buy more of that overpriced popcorn. But I'll pass this time.
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