Sure, let ‘em all be winners

Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? asks Alfie Kohn in the New York Times. In a column adapted from The Myth of the Spoiled Child, he defends “participation” trophies for all — if we must have competitions with winners and losers. “Grit” lovers who think kids should earn rewards and honors want children to be miserable now to prepare for the miseries of adulthood, Kohn believes. They think children shouldn’t “be allowed to feel good about themselves” without “tangible accomplishments.” Conditioning approval on children’s behavior is a big mistake, he argues.

 (According to research), when children feel their parents’ affection varies depending on the extent to which they are well behaved, self-controlled or impressive at school or sports, this promotes “the development of a fragile, contingent and unstable sense of self.” Other researchers, meanwhile, have shown that high self-esteem is beneficial, but that even more desirable is unconditional self-esteem: a solid core of belief in yourself, an abiding sense that you’re competent and worthwhile — even when you screw up or fall short.

I think Kohn confuses parents’ unconditional love of their children with the world’s opinion of other people’s children. If Mom and Dad love their kids only when they score the winning goal or ace the test, that’s a serious problem. Children need to feel lovable.

But kids who grow up thinking that everything they do — however ordinary — will be cheered by non-family members are going to be very frustrated adults. And they won’t have the grit to deal with frustration and keep on going.

Outside your family, who think you’re wonderful just the way you are, the world is just not that into you.

When I was an adolescent, I found it comforting that the world did not revolve around me. It was less responsibility.

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Comments

  1. Here’s the link to the official federal report on “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance”: http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/files/2013/02/OET-Draft-Grit-Report-2-17-13.pdf

  2. “But kids who grow up thinking that everything they do — however ordinary — will be cheered by non-family members are going to be very frustrated adults. And they won’t have the grit to deal with frustration and keep on going.” And sometimes they grow up to be president.

  3. Catherine, I admire your takes on curriculum and practice regimes, but I think you are defining “grit” in a way that is a little off-track (though I don’t doubt you could find a teacher or more who would subscribe to it). In most cases, “grit” really means self-discipline and the willingness to employ it even if the instruction isn’t fun and the practice isn’t either. It also means the ability to put aside one’s fear of failure and concentrate on some schoolwork even though it seems arduous or (initially) hard to understand.

  4. J.D. Salinger says:

    I think Catherine’s definition of grit is fairly accurate as to how it is interpreted and implemented in schools across the country.