Losing is good for kids, writes Ashley Merryman in a New York Times commentary. Nonstop praise is demoralizing.
Children praised for their talents “collapse at the first experience of difficulty, according to Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor.
In other research, children were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise of their artistic talent were “twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.”
Yet the “Trophy-Industrial Complex” is now a $3 billion industry in the U.S. and Canada, she writes. Youth soccer groups spend up to 12 percent of their budget on trophies.
By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.
It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.
If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?
College students who’ve grown up receiving awards for “participation” think they can succeed by just showing up, says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me. That doesn’t work well in college and is even less effective in the workplace.
Parents’ job is help children cope with frustration and defeat, not pretend they’re winners when they’re not, writes Merryman. She and Po Bronson are the authors of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing and NurtureShock.
In other words, you have to win a little, lose a little . . .