A Comfort's Food for Thought

The Desirability of Difficulty


God placed children in families because they could not survive without protection and nurturing that moms and dads (or their surrogates) provide. Normal adults instinctively watch over children and shield them from danger and difficulty. Is it possible, however, that we may carry this natural inclination too far? Could our efforts to safeguard children from life’s trials actually weaken them and make them less able to function as productive adults? Two books I have read in the past month suggest this to be true.
It is generally accepted that low self-esteem hinders academic accomplishments. Parents and teachers generally desire to help children feel better about themselves. We have been encouraged to lavish praise on our children. In fact, I recently encountered a new expression to describe this phenomenon: trophy kids. Trophy kids are those who are rewarded for simply participating in an activity. Unfortunately, when they grow up, trophy kids expect praise and a paycheck for just showing up at work.
Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt, by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, advocates boosting self-esteem; however, the author does not promote the usual gratuitous praise and positive-thinking approach. Instead, he views low self-esteem as a good thing. Why? Self-doubt feels bad, so it can encourage a person to try harder and become more competent. Competence, in turn, brings deserved rewards and praise, thus legitimately raising self-esteem.
Another more readable book by Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, supports Chamorro-Premuzic’s thesis by telling stories of “underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants,” which demonstrate the “advantages of disadvantages” and the desirability of difficulty. In chapter four, for example, Gladwell deals with dyslexia—a condition you would not wish upon your child, but one which has allowed many people to be more creative, better listeners, and more successful than they might otherwise have been if they were able to read effortlessly.
The bottom line is that success usually requires competence, and competence requires hard work. Hard work is . . . well, difficult! We do not do our children any favors by easing their paths through the normal challenges of life. And when they encounter the extraordinary, more painful travails of life, as we comfort and support them, we can also gently encourage them to rise above their difficulties and become better than they would have been without the suffering.
A good, practical, Christian approach to this issue, written to inspire teenagers, is Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris. If you are the parent of a teen, or a soon-to-be teen, I recommend you read it and then pass it on to your child.

posted under Books, School

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I am a Christian, a mother and grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a widow, a friend. . .  My life is first of all defined by relationships–to God, to my family, to my students, to my friends. Of course, I am many other things: a reader, an e-mail writer, a piano player, and a somewhat reluctant traveler, for example.  And now I am a blogger.  I’m not sure why, except it seems to be a logical next step for someone addicted to e-mail.