Some people know what they want to do early in life. I was not one of them, I pretty much wandered aimlessly through life until accidentally encountering a computer as a senior in high school and realizing, hmm, I could be good at that computer stuff. But you hear of such people all the time. People who had an Olympic gold medal by age 16. National swim champion at age 17. Millionaire child star by age 13. World-record-holding pilot by age 12. And then... then what?
Of course, many young elite athletes run into this problem. But usually not until they're in their twenties and more able to handle it. But to be a 17 year old gymnast and know you're washed up, that you'll never be the best in the world again... to be a 12 year old child star who suddenly grows up and gets zits and turns out ugly... what is it like, to know that your best is behind you at such a young age? To know that never again will you have your day in the sun, to be recognized and adulated and worshipped by your peers? And then you're just ordinary Joe or ordinary Jill plugging away through life. But once upon a time, once upon... you were someone.
I can't imagine that any child really has the emotional capacity to handle that. Vicki Van Meter, who just committed suicide at age 26 after making headlines at ages 11 and 12, is just one of the many youngsters who came to a bad end after peaking early. The kids who make it tend to be the ones who are almost scary smart like Jodie Foster, or have a well-grounded home life far from the bright lights that lets them laugh about their past as they move into a more sedate and less famous future. I guess, in the end, my plea is a simple one: Let kids be kids. This business of parents using their children to make up for the failings of their own lives by pushing their kids... it's like beating them with hot pokers and horse whipping them, in the end. The scars may heal over, but they'll never go away.
-- Badtux the Observer Penguin