How do children succeed in life? After I became a parent, I started to ask myself this question. What can my wife and I do to help my daughter succeed in life? What is “success” and what does it look like? As I’ve started reading about this subject, I’ve come across a few insights that I will share with you today.
In Paul Tough’s recent book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character [affiliate link], he challenges our culture’s assumptions that success is a result of intelligence. You see the results of this everywhere: parents sending their children to Kumon at early ages to learn math, the huge demand for Baby Einstein videos, eager parents registering their children for bilingual schools or French Immersion programs, etc. Parents of high school students register them for SATs, IB classes, AP classes, and special summer school programs, all in the hopes of preparing their children for success in the future. These parents believe that the development of cognitive skills, which can be measured by test scores, IQ, and GPA, is the best thing they can do for their children.
But what if those beliefs were wrong?
Paul Tough writes that in the past decade, the latest research from economists, educators, psychologists, and neuroscientists have pointed to a different conclusion: “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiousity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.”
Angela Lee Duckworth in her recent TED talk “The key to success? Grit,” says something similar. She worked as a math teacher for 7th graders in the inner city for many years and noticed that her most intelligent students were not necessarily the ones that succeed. So she quit teaching and became a psychologist. She and her team studied people across many sectors to try to predict who would succeed. They looked at new teachers in inner city schools and tried to predict who would make it through their first year. They studied salespeople and tried to predict who would make the most money. They watched West Point Cadets and finalists at National Spelling Bees. And what they discovered was that the greatest predictor and indicator of success was GRIT.
According to Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” (To see how much grit you have, take Angela Duckworth’s GRIT Test.)
Both reading Paul Tough’s book and listening to Angela Lee Duckworth has made me think more deeply about what Olive and I can do for our daughter Allie, to help her succeed in life. We want to be the best parents that we can, and part of that is learning from what others have to say about parenting. Our deepest desire as parents is making sure that our daughter knows that she is loved and worthy of love. But beyond that, we want to help her develop the necessary skills and character to succeed in life.
How do you think children succeed?
photo credit: Vince Alongi