Dance Moms on Lifetime: Is This How We Should Be Treating Our Kids?

BlogHer Original Post

A new parenting reality TV show out of, sigh, my hometown of Pittsburgh filled me with a series of emotions this week as I watched it. Most of those feelings were negative as I sat and endured the first episode of Dance Moms on Lifetime. I found myself compelled to yell back at the TV as Abby Lee, the dance studio dictator director screamed, yelled and generally berated these nine-year-old girls.

I understand dance and competitions. They’re stressful. Everyone wants to be the best. Everyone is on edge. But what I saw on TV was not how we should be teaching our children how to handle competition. I understand that it’s edited for ratings, but let’s be honest: No child deserves to be berated by a screaming banshee because her stomach hurts during practice. The favoritism displayed by Abby Lee's pyramid of who is best on any given week -- think about the first place photo finish every week on America’s Next Top Model -- doesn’t work as a motivating tool for children. It shows them that they’re not the best, they’re not good enough and they’ll never be good enough.

And!

Since when is third place losing? Is it first place? No. Even if there were only three teams competing and you came in third, you’re not a “loser.” You competed. You did what 99% of kids out there won’t do: Get up on stage and try something new and scary. Why are we teaching our children that anything less than first is worthless? What happened to teaching them about doing their best and, if they don’t come in first, fixing what was wrong and working toward a better finish the next time? Without yelling or guilt or “losing” talk?

Sadly, it’s not just this crazy Pittsburgh lady teaching our children these things. The parents are equally to blame. I witnessed it first hand earlier this summer when a t-ball dad on the opposing team screamed at the volunteer coach because the dad’s four-year-old didn’t get to field the ball. T-ball. Four-years-old. Screaming at a coach. As parents, we have this amazing opportunity to teach our children how to treat other people and how a loss or a set-back doesn’t have to shape your entire future in dance, a sport or in school. That dad and the moms on this show aren’t doing their children any favors by acting like this sport or this dance competition or any number of other life experiences are the be all and end all of what this child is and will be.

I recognize that these are real moms trying to what they believe qualifies as “the best” for their kids. Maybe they’re better moms than me because they’ll put up with crap that I could not and will not; if a coach or instructor or teacher of some sort ever yells at my sons like that, I might go slightly crazy like the one Pastor mom who got the Police called on her by Abby. Maybe their kids really are happy and are learning that with every success, you have to endure some not-so-great moments. But every time one of those girls cried because they were being screamed at -- not just pushed to achieve something new, but simply screamed at -- my heart broke at what I see as a problem in our society. Of pushing our kids too fast, too far. Of taking away their childhoods just because they have a 1 in a million chance at landing a role on Broadway or hitting a home run in the major leagues or becoming Miss America.

They grow up so quickly anyway. Competition will exist for their entire adulthood. Why do we have to make their childhoods so cut-throat, do-or-die?

Supah Mommy wrote about the show on her blog and she feels the same way -- but with much more emotion -- and humor! She thanked these dance moms for making her feel like a great mom.

I love shows like these because I watch them and then promptly turn around and "pat myself on the back" for my awesome parenting.

*pat pat pat*

I look like Mother Momma Theresa compared to these maniac mothers who didn't get the memo--- MOMMA BEARS DO NOT SUBJECT THEIR CUBS TO SUCH THINGS. Even for a REALLY SHINY SPARKLY TROPHY and 15 minutes of fame.

Ms. Wanda, a six-year-veteran dance mom, came to the defense of the moms on the show, sharing some of her experience, including a post about their national championship. She likes the show, but hopes she’s not acting that way.

This show was so entertaining I'm an instant fan! I was texting and facebooking my DMs and we were all saying that we hope we are not this bad! I paused and gave this some thought (some of us are crazy as hell) and then I said, "Noooo we are not that bad:)"

(I'd argue her point that this is not just television. Those are real little girls with real feelings.)

The most interesting -- and perhaps most important -- point of view I came across was by Paige at The 828. She’s a (teenage!) competitive dancer whose studio has actually competed against Abby Miller’s studio. Her thoughts?

Not all dance moms and teachers are crazy or evil! Mine aren't!

But some are...

We go to competitions and do our dances. Some moms treat this like the Olympics, they just pressure their daughters so much and it's not right! Dance competitions are for having fun and healthy competition, not craziness and pressure!

But in this series, the TEACHER is the evil one. She treats them like they are going off to war. If my dance teacher was like that, I'd quit.

All of this brings us back to last year’s discussion on what is and is not appropriate for our children on stage. Or off. Or never on. These are children. I don’t know whether the discussion should be to do away with thrusting our babies onto reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, 16 & Pregnant, Teen Mom, etc) or about the crazy teacher or about forcing our kids to do more, right now, as parents. Or what. But I do know that our kids deserve more -- and not of winning or of yelling or of pressure. They deserve more patience, unconditional love and respect. And I don’t think they’re getting it with this show or the mindset surrounding the Win At All Costs attitude.

What are your thoughts? Did you catch the show? (You can watch for free on Hulu, by the way.) Are you more angry with the teacher or the parents? Is this the fault of society or is it just where we’re headed? Or do you agree that this all fine and dandy, nothing but teaching our kids about winning in the real world?

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

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