It’s been a while since I wrote a parenting post (writer’s block maybe?), but reading a very interesting article in the New York Times made me think, and rethink: Am I preparing my kids for the real world?
The article calls our kids age the “everyone-gets-a-trophy generation” which is absolutely true and frustrating. See it started in kindergarten sports day, there is no winner or loser. You think it’s ok, they are just kids and who wants to deal with 20+ temper tantrums on a day that’s supposed to be fun for the kids?
Then it slowly, without realizing it, started creeping to the older kids. See in our school we have houses with different colors. These four houses compete against each other on sports day and the winning house gets a reward like a pizza party or something. Three years ago it was the blue house (not my kids team), two years ago it was the reds (yay our team!), but last year and this year .. there were no winners. It wasn’t like announced that it’s not a real competition and ‘everyone wins’, but the lack of winners/losers seemed to make everyone happy.
And it’s not only that. Last week we had the IT fair in our school. There were 15+ teams showing their robots that they created. Some were better than others but at the end, every single team won. Every team was called up on stage and given a certificate and a medal. They had different categories like: most creative, most innovative, best looking robot .. etc. I feel bad for the person who had to come up with 15+ different categories, just so everyone could ‘win’.
I asked one of the judging teachers and she said that they had to do that because of the amount of angry complaints from parents they get each year.
I for one don’t like the everyone wins policy and kind of felt like the school was a pushover for giving into parents complaints .. until I saw for myself first hand how ruthless it can be.
Just three days after having that conversation with the teacher, my daughter took part in the awaited Battle of the Books. Each year, our librarian chooses a list of 20 books for the grade to read. Five students from each class are chose to compete (this is done by student voting in class). These five students have to read the list of 20 books between themselves, so each student reads four books (you can read more if you like) in almost two months. (My daughter read Pippi Longstocking, Loser, Mostly Ghostly: Have you met my Ghoulfriend?, Holes, and Hatchet).
So anyways, we moms were excited as this is the first year we get to participate (only grades 4 and 5 have it). We created a booklet with questions so they can summarize their books in, took them to Starbucks so they can have book discussions and so on. It was so much fun and in the end, all we wanted is to build a love of reading in our kids.
Fast forward to the morning of the battle, my girl was very nervous. I told her it doesn’t matter if she wins or loses because in my eyes she is already a winner as she did a great job in reading and summarizing all those books. And I’m proud of her for stepping in and helping her friends when they couldn’t finish reading all their books. So as a reward for all her efforts, I am taking her out and buying her a gift, no matter what the outcome of the battle is.
I really really wanted my daughter’s team to win. They hot a couple of questions wrong, and it was nerve wracking but did end up winning in the end. What surprised me was the amount of temper tantrums/crying the other teams had (keep in mind they are 9 – 10 years old). What surprised me even more was the amount of temper tantrums the moms had!
The amount of abuse the organizing teacher got was ridiculous! He put the effort from his personal time (he has twin babies btw so I’m sure he could’ve spent this time in many other ways) to organize the competition, come up with the questions, and host it, all to provide the kids with an enjoyable event and to promote reading. And what did he get in return?! Screaming, angry parents accusing him of cheating, neglect, and being reckless with kids emotions. Looking at all their angry faces I don’t think they realize how ridiculous they look!
So we took out the winning team to dinner and on the way there I had a talk with my daughter about what happened. I asked her to think about what happened and how Mr. S must’ve felt. And I told her if she participates again next year, if her team doesn’t win, I want her to be an example for the rest and congratulate the winning team and lift the spirits of her own team. As for me, I promised to take her out next year to celebrate as long as she finishes her four books and summarizes them, because I reward effort and not just medals.
So, what are we teaching our kids by bulldozing all obstacles they face? I know it’s hard to see your kids fail, not win, be disappointed, but shouldn’t we teach them how to deal with these emotions? Shouldn’t we model behavior instead of screaming at a teacher? If a child sees his mom doing it, what will stop them from doing it and disrespecting their teachers in the future?
I’m sure these parents don’t mean to do wrong towards their kids and their parenting. On the contrary, they believe by doing this, they are protecting their kids and always ensure they have a leg up on anything they want to accomplish. But by doing that, they rob their kids of experiencing failure.
The NY Times article points out that failure teaches kids to “solve problems, take risks, and overcome frustration.” These are “crucial life skills” that kids need to build up in order to face the real world. The article goes on to list examples of students who got accepted to top universities like Stanford but dropped out after the first semester because they didn’t have the tools to cope by themselves.
My oldest is just 10 years old and I still feel new to all this and trying my best to figure it all out. I’m sure I made a million mistakes on the way that I really hope doesn’t mess my kids up forever. But I am happy, after reading this article, that I didn’t send my daughter’s math book to school when she forgot it at home after doing her improper fractions homework. I told her a million times she is responsible for her books and schoolbag. Now she will always remember to put her homework back in her bag and I’m glad I didn’t bail her out (even though I thought about it). This might seem like a small thing but hopefully, it’s a correct mindset and heading towards the right direction in a world where everyone-gets-a-trophy.
I am writing this post after just coming back from my niece and nephew’s birthday party. My daughter won the book “Oh the Places you’ll Go!” What a fitting book to end my discussion with her, and to end my post too.
So will conclude this with the wittier of the cleverest.. Dr. Suess:
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best Wherever you go, you will top all the rest Except when you don’t Because, sometimes, you won’t I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you …
But on you will go though the weather be foul On you will go though your enemies prowl …
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
Here’s to hoping all our kids will move their awaiting mountain, and we just be proud parents with as little meddling as possible.
Because just as we should be proud of our achievements, they should be proud of theirs too!