We all want our kids to be successful. We get them math tutors, drive them to summer drama camps, buy them fancy tennis rackets, and encourage them to study with the best violin teachers-- all so that they have no barriers to success. But experts (vying for this year's Ironic Parenting Tip Award) now believe that success might be hampered by . . . success! Yes, you read that correctly. According to some journalists and researchers, too much early success might be hurting recent college graduates' adjustment to working life. Many employers believe the newest generation of job seekers expects too much-high pay, interesting work, flexible schedules-and without paying their dues. A professor who studies this phenomenon, Dr. Mel Levine, believes that students aren't prepared for the workforce because parents and schools coddle them. Kids are sprinkled with achievements so much, so early, and so easily, and they believe that succeeding in the real world will be the same. You can help change this phenomenon. Not that you should discourage your kids from striving to achieve, but perhaps some of the following concepts will help you think about the proper balance between helping your kids succeed while ensuring that your kids' early successes don't hamper their long-term achievement.
- Offer perspective. Parents are declaring their kid a genius because she learned to tie a double knot without being taught or received five more star stickers than any other student in second grade. Yes, we want to encourage our kids and congratulate them when they do well, so don't burn the stickers. But keep your celebrations and praise reasonable. If we turn an A on a spelling quiz into a three-ring circus, we shouldn't be surprised when our kids are disappointed at their first job when they successfully complete a task and no one comes running out with balloons, cake, and party hats.
- Don't protect your kids from failure. Teachers and parents don't want anyone to feel left out, which is why there is a trend that every kid must be succeeding at everything all the time. For example, because high school graduation excludes non-seniors, many schools now celebrate graduation for every class. And sports leagues don't want to have losers, so they give trophies to every participant. But without occasionally being left out of a success or even [gasp!] failing, our kids will not appreciate success and will not learn how to deal with failure productively. Encourage your child to try things even if success isn't certain. If your son wants to play on the high school basketball team, get him to try out even if he probably won't make it. Convince him to take AP physics if he is interested, even if the class is supposed to be hard. The worst thing that can happen is getting cut from the team or a bad grade, which may even inspire him to work harder in the future. The best thing that can happen is a success he can feel great about.
- Praise effort and mastery. Kids can be praised for innate abilities ("Great job getting that grade. You are so smart."), or kids can be praised for putting in the effort to master a skill or task ("Great job getting that grade. You really applied yourself and figured out the material."). Research shows that praising innate ability can actually decrease your child's motivation and perseverance. If a kid believes her success is due to her intelligence or natural gifts then she will feel that any result is beyond her control-either she is a good enough soccer player to make the team or she isn't. Further, this mindset means every challenge could expose an innate deficiency-no one wants to take a test where the result will determine whether or not they are talented or smart. These kids are more likely to avoid challenges and quit quickly. On the other hand, if a kid thinks success is due to hard work, then she will feel that she controls the outcome of any challenge, and will see failure as a mandate to work harder. These kids have much greater long-term success. Of course, you can still tell your kids they are smart or talented, but try to focus on how they applied themselves and mastered certain skills rather than just declaring them gifted little geniuses.
- Create self-confident kids. Many parents worry that too much success might turn their kids into snobs or braggarts. We all know the guy we avoid at every cocktail party because he won't stop talking about his recent tennis victories, his kids' difficult choice between Harvard and Princeton, and how bonus season this year really worked out well. But excessive cockiness is not a sign of too much success. Rather, it is usually rooted in insecurity and lack of self-confidence. Develop your child's self-confidence by praising them appropriately and giving plenty of love and support. Don't push your kids too hard to succeed at everything or make them feel bad about failures. If you make your kids comfortable with themselves and discuss the importance of humility, they won't get a big head from success.
- Success isn't everything. Many parents and kids get so caught up in achieving goals that they lose sight of many other important parts of life. Good grades aren't as important as learning, state championships aren't a substitute for happiness, and trophies don't excuse your child from being a decent human being. You want your kid to develop into a happy, healthy, confident, thoughtful, and likable person. Consider how success plays a role in that process, but don't let a thirst for achievement and awards overshadow those big picture goals.