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Hold your (kid's) head high
December 3, 2002
by Tresa McBee

I admit I was unaware. Who knew head lifting required such consideration?

Me, I thought babies innately learned how to lift their heads on their way to crawling the way babies have done for, oh, I dunno, centuries. Hah!

No, no, fellow unaware people. The rate at which infants conquer head lifting and begin scooching their diaper-clad behinds across the floor is now a source of concern, of angst, of keeping up with the Joneses' junior.

But don't fret. A solution exists, because we fix stuff that ain't broke all the time. The answer to delayed head lifting is tummy time, which The Associated Press calls the "latest infant-stimulation craze" this side of obsessive-compulsive parents incapable of contemplating that things really will progress without their intervention.

As the AP reports, parent-and-baby programs from run-of-the-mill public schools to impossibly chic and obscenely expensive, big-city private schools are "adding tummy activities to their curricula." Yes -- curricula. For babies but a few months out of the womb. Progress is so stimulating.

Tummy time apparently stems from a shift in how babies are supposed to sleep. After years of being told to put infants on their stomachs, parents are now advised to lay babies on their backs in order to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Studies indicate that that risk has fallen with the revised sleeping-position directive, but parents are worried because some babies might now be slower to develop the head lifting that leads to crawling.

Which leads to walking. Which leads to talking. Which leads to memorizing multiplication tables and the first foreign language by 2.8 years. Which leads to introductory karate and ballet and piano lessons by 4.3 years. Which leads to honor roll in kindergarten at 5.5 years and then the best science project ever and student government and a semester abroad and band and gymnastics and, and, and -- right up to admittance into the most selective schools by 17.1, maybe 16.8 for early-admittance achievers.

So, you see, head lifting must, absolutely, no-doubt-about-it occur on time. Schedules to keep and goals to achieve, people. Experts recommend several sessions of tummy time per day.

And toy companies are catching on. Or, perhaps, they're leading the pack of gullible parents, but whatever. Tummy time takes toys, such as Hasbro's Tummy Time Picture Show (another is on the way) and Fisher-Price's three tummy trinkets. As Ira Hernowitz, Hasbro Inc. senior veep, told the AP, "We want to own tummy time." But, of course!

Except there's a problem. Some babies don't like all this tummy attention. They squirm, they shriek, they scream. They downright protest. Doesn't matter how many attempts mom makes at tummy time or how dutifully she times each session. One suspects babies instinctively know that which their parents can't grasp because, well, where would they fit in -- that most non-tummy-time infants will catch up on all development skills by 18 months.

But why wait? He who dies with the most-achieved child wins. Is anyone seriously surprised that parents are increasingly considered a hindrance to their children's acceptance to college? The elite variety, of course. Some parents have been known to harass admissions officers and even make threats. As one woman who's worked in college admissions told The Boston Globe, "too many baby boomers are living vicariously through their children and finding it hard to let go."

Think so? In the same article, a mother who served as her daughter's "organizational coach" during the applications process said, presumably without irony, "Kids are under such pressure. I felt the need to step in and alleviate what I could." That's a good one -- relieving pressure aided by anxious parents who've never gotten over leaving their own adolescence behind several decades ago. Growing up is so hard to do.

Parents wanting the best for their children is natural. But many go well beyond that, catering to every need, whim and bratty demand that parents themselves create. That we produce self-centered children who grow into self-absorbed adults should cease to shock.

Now it's tummy time, next it'll be some in utero must-do and then it'll be some pre-conception gotta-do, because, honestly, who wants a normal child who progresses at his own rate.

Children. A must-have for any self-respecting parent who wants to get ahead.

Copyright, Northwest Arkansas Times. Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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