Our students today are overwhelmed with information and skills training. By the time a student enters first grade, they have been exposed to a plethora of digital information including video games, educational material, societal propaganda, and sports trivia. As they progress through their early years of elementary school, many are enrolled in piano, dance, sporting activities, theater, scouts, etc., in addition to the academic training they are receiving at school. Upon graduation, our students have acquired a large stockpile of information and skill-sets, some of which are transferable to the ‘real world’ and many that are not.
Older adults who have experienced their share of life’s ups and down will tell you that life can be difficult. Dealing successfully with those difficulties requires grit, and, in spite of their busyness, many of our young people have not developed this critical skill set.
Grit can only be developed through hardship, and we as parents are ‘experts to a fault’ at ensuring that our students avoid any form of hardship. We may have negative recollections of our struggles in our younger years, and our parental instincts tell us to move in and create a human shield between our children and those difficult situations. Unfortunately, in the process, we are depriving the younger generation of a coping mechanism that may be the difference between thriving, and personal or professional collapse.
There are many opportunities to expose our students to healthy doses of adversity, which in turn will allow them to develop grit and perseverance. One easy example is sporting activities. Coaching your student’s sports team is great way to spend quality time together while working toward a common goal; however, it may not be helpful to coach and direct every sports experience that your child has. Issues like limited playing time, not making the ‘A’ team, or being displaced by the coach’s child, even if they are, at times, unjust, provide our students (and our entire families) with ‘learning opportunities’.
Your child will learn, as most adults have learned, that life is not always fair, and we often do not control many aspects of life that are coming at us. What we can control is how we respond to the negative. Do we shut down and cower? Do we scream victim status and demand to be heard? Do we internalize the negative result and let that negativity determine our self-worth? Or, do we swallow hard, sulk for a day or two, and then move on to the next opportunity that awaits us? Or, even better, do we re-double our efforts in that activity and take another shot at it to prove our ability or value? (eg; Abraham Lincoln and Michael Jordan).
A part-time job is also an excellent way to safely expose your student to a variety of challenging situations that will require resilience and mental toughness. A job in customer service can sometimes be ‘unpleasant’ when dealing with a disgruntled or just plain angry customer. From this experience, our students can develop the skill of diplomacy and can learn to remain confident and sure of themselves even when taking fire. Working early in the morning, on a Saturday night, or in the hot summer sun teaches young people that doing what needs doing is not always pleasant or a first choice. Over time, a sense of satisfaction and pride from working hard will replace the original feelings of laziness and self-doubt.
So the next time your student is battling the inevitable hardships that come with life, think twice before you swoop in and make everything all better. Allow your student to work through the challenge and develop the strength that comes with that effort. Then provide affirmation to assist them to realize and celebrate what they have accomplished. Life is tough. Make sure your students have the tools they will need to thrive.
By: Beth Voet