Try, try again - Opinion Editorial

An Essay By Anna Sabine R. // 4/23/2018

I was always the proverbial fifth wheel of the many youth sports teams I participated in while in elementary school, yet at the end of each season, I would receive the same trophy as the polished point guard sitting next to me. Those “presents” made me feel special at the time, yet looking back, I realize that I didn’t deserve any awards for my lack of interest in the game. Those awards, exciting as it was to receive them, did not motivate me to listen to the coach, practice more, or put more effort into my playing.

What grand moral is this tale supposed to teach, you ask?

Rewarding children for participation does not compel them to try harder—it conditions them to expect rewards for just showing up.

Lavishing children with praise for their abilities instead of encouraging them to persevere does not boost confidence—it leads to narcissism.

Journalist and author Ashley Merryman explains, “Beginning in the 1980s, many parents, educators and coaches became consumed by the theory that high self-esteem was essential to psychological well-being, and that children should be protected from experiences potentially damaging to a developing self-image.” That theory was disproved years ago.

Research has since shown that such practices actually have adverse effects: they inflate children’s egos and cause them to give up easily. When children—talented or not—are constantly told that they are talented, they believe it. However, at the first sign of failure, those same children bail out. Believing that they have failed their smart selves, they stick to simpler, more familiar tasks that ensure success—or the illusion of success. Conversely, children who are complimented for their tenacity are discouraged less easily.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, praising children for their innate abilities promotes a fixed mindset, which assumes that one’s level of intelligence is inherent and fixed, while praising them for their perseverance promotes a growth mindset, which says that intelligence is gained through trying, failing, and trying again.

In life, “you lose more than you win.” Instead of maintaining an “everybody’s a winner” attitude, accept that losses—learning opportunities—will occur. The anxieties of a teenager who’s been called “smart” his or her entire life but is currently struggling at school will not be assuaged by a simple “You’ll do better next time”—a cliched sentiment whose weak encouragement seems to only mock that teenager’s fizzling abilities. To him or her, putting in more effort is proof of failure, and failure must be avoided at all costs. If he or she already has the brains to fix the problem, struggling with concepts in order to learn them isn’t necessary, right? A student with a growth mindset, on the other hand, realizes that what you put in is what you get out.

Throughout my (admittedly short) life, adults have frequently told my mom that my younger brother and I are “precocious” and “smart”—titles she always politely rebuffs. “It doesn’t matter how smart they are,” she’ll reply. “There are many smart people who are proud and lazy because they think they can do things without studying or working hard. What really matters is how hard they work.”

And for that I am grateful.

Comments

Well-written and concise

Well done! Flows smoothly and is easy to follow. :) And I agree 100%. Thanks for sharing!

Damaris Ann | Tue, 04/24/2018

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Great thoughts on this

Great thoughts on this subject. I whole-heartedly agree. To tell the truth, I hadn't really thought on this too much, but you've convinced me of the truth. Besides all this, you wrote this to be very engaging and interesting!

Libby | Thu, 04/26/2018

“The gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation.
Therefore, suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, yes. Be shamed, yes. But do not be ashamed. For the joy set before you, take up your cross, follow Jesus, be shamed and despise the shame!" -- John Piper

Nice!

Nice job. This is definitely well thought out, researched, and supported by your own experience and that of others. I like your statement here. "Lavishing children with praise for their abilities instead of encouraging them to persevere does not boost confidence—it leads to narcissism." When you focus too much on supporting what they know and not teach them how to learn, it's pretty much spoiling the child. Well done!

Jill Levine Tyler | Fri, 04/27/2018

Jill L. Tyler

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Instructive, Discerning, and Insightful

Great essay. You picked a very relevant topic, did your research, and wrote out your paper very well. There were several sentences that I enjoyed reading purely for the way you structured them. Here's my favorite:

"The anxieties of a teenager who’s been called “smart” his or her entire life but is currently struggling at school will not be assuaged by a simple “You’ll do better next time”—a cliched sentiment whose weak encouragement seems to only mock that teenager’s fizzling abilities."

Overall very well written essay.

Now, I'd like to share what I'd like to have seen. This by no means is saying your essay was incomplete or not fully researched, but that you could have taken it further. I would like to have read further on the topic of entitlement which is directly connected to the topic of your essay. I would have also liked to see why all this even matters from a biblical perspective. From what you wrote, I can see how it matters because I am starting with certain presuppositions, and most readers (Christian or secular) would at least grasp the general reason why this is an important topic, but I believe it's important to make sure the reader understands that because of what the Bible says this is important. This shows that you take the Bible as authoritative, and that they should too.

Thanks for the read, and a belated welcome to apricotpie!

Arthur | Thu, 05/10/2018

"My greatest wish for my writing is that it would point you to the Savior."

Thanks, Everyone!

Thank you all for your uplifting words!

@Arthur - Thank you for your specific comments (I always like those)! I didn't cover the biblical aspect of the issue because (1) I didn't have much room, as my writing teacher at the homeschool co-op I attend instituted a (fortunately not hard and fast) word limit of 500 words--which I still went over by 37 words--and (2) my teacher wanted my classmates and me to write our opinion editorials as if we were writing for a secular newspaper (e.g., The New York Times or The Seattle Times) so that we could practice writing for a non-Christian audience.

Anna Sabine R. | Thu, 05/10/2018

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
-Joshua 1:9 (NASB)

If you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.

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