Key Points Parents in the United States are increasingly engaged in enrolling their children in various extracurricular activities at an early age and investing more in them. Particularly, when it comes to college applications, comprehensive qualities and post-school performance of children hold equal importance alongside standardized tests. However, amidst the competitive culture prevalent across different arenas, the effectiveness of such pursuits raises questions. With this curiosity in mind, Professor Friedman from Brown University conducted a comprehensive sociological survey of nearly 100 families. The findings offer thought-provoking insights for each family involved.
Competition has long been a culture in the blood of American society. This can be seen from the increasing volume of college applications each year.
And college admission is a bellwether for many middle-class parents. In particular, parents who target prestigious schools, in order to give their children more advantages in admission, only high school academics have long been outdated, and extracurricular activities have become standard.
When many children have no idea of college, they learn from their parents that their goal is a good school like Harvard and Stanford.
Hilary Levey Friedman, a professor at Brown University, noted early on that middle-class American parents are particularly keen on taking their children to competitions, higher rankings, and more prizes.
To understand the parenting mindset of these middle-class parents, she personally interviewed 95 middle-class families in the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast for 16 months. Most of these children participate in one of the football, chess, dance, these three are also representative of the United States competitive extracurricular activities, training, competition, ranking almost full of children’s spare time.
The findings worry Friedman that while parents have good intentions, some negative effects are being felt by children as competition ages:
The most direct is that parents’ obsession with winning affects their children’s competitive outlook and even values. Some games that go against the nature of growth, some fake coaches that confuse the real world, may also bring irreparable harm to children psychologically and physically.
01 Dazzling rankings and rewards,Weakens the child's drive.
Starting from the kindergarten entrance score, to the middle school GPA, SAT, competition, is the current education can not escape the topic. Sometimes, this concept is too popular, parents can not help but even the child’s height, weight values have to take a contest.
In such an environment, it is normal for children to compete for a place in extracurricular activities. Many “sane” parents do not think it is so important to win or lose one or two small competitions, they pay more attention to the psychological maturity of their children – to understand the importance of winning, and learn to learn from failure, and succeed the next time.
These are the two skills parents value most, and Friedman calls them “childhood competition capital.”
From the original point of view, parents still want their children to be able to think rationally about success and failure, but the problem is that children who are involved in various competitions may not be able to maintain such rationality.
It is not that the big people have not tried, more and more competition organizers are setting up a wide range of awards, such as participation awards with various names, in order to dilute the excessive erosion of the “winner-take-all” consciousness on children.But it turns out that this approach is only useful for younger children.
In his conversations with children, Friedman found that kindergartners and first-graders basically accepted all kinds of trophies. After 9 years, things are different.
Psychological research shows that children at this age begin to understand that success requires conditions. Plus the kids noticed that adults always cared more about who won the biggest prize and who had the highest title. They begin to understand that the trophies they win are more valuable, and they become less interested in participation awards.
Friedman once went to a football expo, where no games were held, but each of the young players received a badge.
The kids understood the difference. One girl said, “This is different from the Boy Scout badge. That means you did a good job. This is like saying you’ve been there.” Only a trophy won in a tournament twice a year is considered “hard” by children.
What parents expect is for their children to have a belief in victory. By this point, some children become obsessed with victory and unwilling to accept defeat, let alone learn from it.
But the impact of the reward didn’t stop there. The material rewards given by parents are also a daily routine for many children: sometimes it is a meal at a restaurant, sometimes it is a special permission to eat ice cream, and sometimes it is a gift of video games, buying games, and all kinds of rewards.
A mother named Louise, is particularly famous in the local chess parents circle – she carefully designed a set of complex points system for her daughter, From the number of hours she learned to play chess and practice skating, to getting an A in her homework and not fighting with her sister, every act of her daughter will have a certain amount of points. When she accumulates a few thousand points, she will receive a “super” reward.
But change also happens quietly. At the beginning, many children can continue to participate in the next game under the impetus of the desire to win, but gradually, some children’s motivation has become a trophy, reward, and even more and more not satisfied with snacks, games, these simple rewards, and look forward to real money material rewards.
Part of it is the game itself. Friedman found that some student chess tournaments no longer give trophies to older, more accomplished children, but rather special prizes like chess software, wooden chess sets, and even iPods. It’s also how they keep these young players.
The kids love this. John, a chess player, told Friedman that he would rather win an iPod than a trophy.
But the findings of psychologists Lepper and Green are not optimistic. They found that the extrinsic motivation of reward wears away the intrinsic motivation, and that children who expect reward tend to act faster, but less effectively.They no longer care about the process of improving their skills, and if they can’t continue to receive rewards, children who are only driven by this external motivation are likely to choose to withdraw from the activity.
No one wants to see this result. Friedman also wrote: “We use extrinsic motivation to motivate our kids, and then a few years later, we ask them to be intrinsically motivated on their college applications. This makes American childhood both puzzling and controversial.”
02 Turn entertainment into a competition,Imposed competition goes against the nature of the child
Many scholars, not just Friedman, believe that the United States is a success-oriented society. Ambitious, versatile and willing to take risks is the ideal American image in many people’s minds. Diener, an American sociologist, once said, “Competition allows us to prove our worth (to ourselves and others), and it also provides a channel to determine whether we are better or worse.”
But in hundreds of conversations, Friedman found that parents and children do not approach competition the same way:
Although many parents believe that the experience of teamwork is important, parents are more likely to worry about their children’s ability to compete individually when teamwork may hinder their children’s personal development and make them reluctant to learn how to compete independently.
But children are different. Whether it’s soccer, which focuses on teamwork, or chess, or a combination of competitive dance, many children cite the opportunity to make friends outside of school.Compared to competition, children value the friendship gained.
Friedman notes that unlike parents and other adults who constantly compare themselves, children often enjoy appreciating the talents of their friends or teammates. Some parents complained to Friedman about the team’s “bullies,” but the kids thought it was okay. If the bullies helped the team win, the whole team would be happy.
This creates a paradox – parents always prefer their children to exercise their abilities, but children enjoy teamwork and some even avoid one-on-one competition.
Peter Gray, a professor at Boston College, believes that many adults overestimate the value of competition, and that cooperation is the nature of children.
Without adult supervision or intervention, children rarely compete with each other in play. Sometimes, even without keeping score, children are interested in making friends and having fun. The kids who play baseball, although the two teams compete, always think about how to play a little longer.
Children need their own play time. If even these hours are pushed by adults to compete, the child may not know how to relax and play, how to make friends. This belongs to picked up sesame, lost watermelon.
And Friedman also mentioned something that many parents overlook the child’s personality is different.Even if they participate in competitive activities, some children are competitive, but there are also many children who do not like to compete, especially with their good friends.
Louise, who has designed a complex scoring system for children, said her daughter Lottie was competitive at chess, wanting to win against strangers, family or her best friend. But Lottie’s best friend is different, and every time she plays chess with her friends, she always thinks of a draw.
Daisuke, who has been playing chess since kindergarten, is not very good at playing. The first-year student said, “Games always make my stomach ache.” But his parents firmly believe that when he has more experience in the game, he will no longer have stomachaches.
Daisuke is not alone. Many children talk to their parents about their stress, but Friedman observes that most of the time, parents ignore or try to rationalize their children’s experiences.
Is to continue to push the baby, or follow the baby’s meaning?
Friedman feels there is no uniform answer to this question. Children who enjoy the fun of competition may be pushed by their parents, and they will become more and more courageous. But in case the child is not like the first character, the consequence of strong push may be the child tears shed the scene, withdraw from the game or even give up this activity. Such children, Friedman has seen a lot of them in his investigations.
03 Strive for ability, not victory,Maybe it's a way to break it.
Under the influence of parents, teachers, and coaches, children have long realized that extracurricular activities are no longer just activities, but “second schools” outside of school.
“Even if kids are having fun, it’s clear that surviving in a mini-adult world, gaining more childhood competitive capital, is the primary goal.” This is how Friedman describes today’s children.
But after all, competition in life can not be avoided, if the children can not learn how to deal with such an environment, how to go in the future?
As I said earlier, competition is not necessarily bad. The childhood competition capital that parents pursue, in essence, is also exercising their children’s ability, and the intrinsic motivation of college requirements is not deviated much.
To reverse the current “win as the goal” mentality, focus on training correction, put the child’s ability before the ranking.
Many psychological studies have shown that children are more likely to stick with activities if they focus on the process instead of the outcome.
Friedman interviewed elite dance academy children like this, they pay more attention to the evaluation of the teacher, the teacher will not inform the students of the comments of the competition judges, many times, the teacher is more strict than the judges. Once, the child did not perform well in the competition, but still got a good platinum award. Back to the academy, the teacher seriously reviewed the children and pointed out the mistakes and shortcomings in the competition. This keeps the children on the path to improving their skills.
The same goes for the kids at Tianxi Football Club. They care more about the coach’s guidance and don’t care too much about the referee’s decisions and interventions in the game. Once, the team won the ball, the players were scolded, the coach pointed out that the children lead in the game after the slack, on the field will be full struggle, this is a player’s duty. These words also made the young players realize that there is a difference between competition and play, and that playing can be relaxed, but playing requires struggle.
Most of the time, the moment of winning or losing is not as good as the care and encouragement between children.During a baseball tournament in Oklahoma, a minor hitter accidentally hit his helmet and fell down. The opponent’s little pitcher was remorseful and sad. But when the batter got up, he hugged his opponent and told him, “You threw a great pitch!” In the game, they are rivals, but outside the game, the children are friends. What could be more heart-warming than this?
Learning to cope with stress is another skill that children should gain from participating in activities.For many years, the examination, entrance competition pressure to bring psychological problems to children’s reports, both at home and abroad are common. But Friedman found in his research that children who developed the ability to cope with stress during competition also performed better under academic pressure.
How to deal with stress is different for every child:
Dancing Christina has a talisman of her own, which she holds in prayer before every competition;
Although Tristan is only 8 years old, he has learned some of the physical signals of professional chess players to exert psychological pressure on his opponents.
Some children will go to the bathroom with cold water to calm down when they are nervous.
These methods may be explored by children, or they can be helped by parents. At a dance competition, Friedman saw a little girl slip in a solo dance session, which made her very nervous when she waited for the next time. Her mother was also acutely aware that her daughter had been watching other contestants perform, and her nerves were highly tense. So she patiently told her daughter not to pay attention to the other contestants, to focus on herself, and to believe that she would always jump better in the next link. In the end, mom’s method worked! The accident also became a valuable experience for the little girl, who became more and more confident in the next few competitions.
In addition, Friedman also mentioned a potentially huge problem – institutional training qualifications.
She shared a shocking experience:
You know, youth football is already a highly specialized and standardized project. According to the regulations, all coaches of youth football must be certified, even if they are volunteer coaches of parents. Although most youth coaches hold an E license slightly above the lowest F, there is still a norm.
Chess and competitive dance and other events are not as good as football, there is no official certification of the license to coach, parents mostly through the word of mouth to find coaches. Once encountered a bad number of “coaches”, hidden dangers are not only lack of grades, unprofessional training may bring irreparable harm to the child’s body.
By contrast, misappropriation of public funds by clubs due to lack of oversight, spats between parents and coaches, clubs and communities are minor. This still happens today. Friedman also retweeted the story on Twitter, reminding everyone to raise safety awareness.
There is no doubt that the competitive culture makes it necessary to adopt a certain strategy for many things in life. This makes many parents unconsciously also regard parenting as a task: as if just start as soon as possible, read the right research results, and do the right things, you can get the ultimate ideal “product.”
But Friedman would preferThink of parenting as a buffet.Children can taste different dishes, so they know which one they like best, and then take more.
In her view, what parents choose to expose their children to depends on a variety of personal and social factors.It is more important to listen to your child’s voice than to arbitrarily decide what they want to participate in, whether they want to give up or to advance, after all, long-term development is the goal.What parents really need to make decisions is to provide a safe environment for their children to practice, and try to avoid unqualified “coaches” to bring harm to children.
“So, is it a problem if kids like to compete?” The New York Times asked the opposite question in an interview.
“No problem, unless the child gets bored.” Friedman’s answer is also filled with a mother’s love for her child.