One’s environment should never be made too easy. A child should always be challenged within the context of what is reasonable and attainable. Some diversity/failure is necessary to develop aspects of character that are of value later in life. Additionally, there is clear evidence that “character strengths” (not IQ), are more important in a child’s school and life success. Allowing children to take risks, explore unstructured social situations, learn because of interests and curiosity, and fail from time-to-time are the ingredients to good parenting that are being over managed by today’s “helicopter parents.” Parents used to think nothing of letting their children run free in the community; exploring the neighborhood, nature, friendships, and returning home at sunset for dinner. Curiosity and exploration served as opportunities for learning, developing passions, and enhancing self-esteem.
In the old days, children would bounce around like pinballs in the back of a car. Now, children are strapped in like astronauts waiting to blast off. Back then, if a child lacked the skills to make the basketball team, they would be cut and left to deal with the disappointment of not being good at something; leading them to either practice more or find another avenue of exploration. These days, all children make the team. Children need to be able to deal with tough situations without their mother or father bailing them out. All of these things are critical to character development.
In our current educational system, our teachers are discouraged from paying attention to “character development,” while teaching to the “average” child. Helping kids develop a passion for learning has taken a back seat to teaching them what they need to know for the next standardized test. In their quest to obtain high scores on standardized tests and cover required curriculum goals, schools are not even thinking about how to develop things like perseverance and curiosity. In essence, children are taught what to think, not how to think!
Unknowingly, parents have also become sucked into this cycle of being concerned about grades and standardized test scores, rather than the development of character traits. It is an epidemic that parents in the top socioeconomic tiers are more worried about what college their child can get into, SAT scores, or what other parents may think, rather than being concerned about the development of their child’s passion for learning and resiliency to tough situations (“GRIT”) see next section of this article).
Several recent publications have captured the importance of parents assisting in the development of “character skills”:
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed (Jessica Lahey)
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character(Paul Tough)
So What is the Important Variable?
What core character trait is the best indicator of success in adulthood? Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D. describes the most important character trait as “GRIT.”
Watch her informative yet brief Ted Talk below:
Take the GRIT TEST to find out how “gritty” you are (please note this is a voluntary research study developed out of the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania):