A New Approach to ‘How Children Succeed’

January 20, 2013

If you were to ask a group of parents about the successes they want their children to realize in life, you would no doubt get a variety of answers. But the majority might start with the pursuit of academic, career, and financial success, as opposed to say, success in marriage, overall happiness, or finding a career that is personally fulfilling rather than fiscally rewarding. When most people think about the word “success” in regards to their children they jump right to intelligence and the ability to perform academically. Paul Tough, who has made a name for himself speaking and writing on topics like child development and education via radio programs (‘This American Life’), literary publications (‘New York Times Magazine’), and online forums (‘Open Letters’), posits that there are other, more important factors when it comes to raising successful children. And the title of his recently released audio book says it all.

‘How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character’ is not a book on the tired subject of nature versus nurture, although it may come across that way. It is ostensibly an argument for allowing and encouraging kids to develop in a variety of ways so that they ultimately have a better chance of success in life. He urges listeners to put more emphasis on the quality of a child’s character rather than the drive to pull high test scores. When children are given the opportunity to develop essential skills like curiosity, self-control, and perseverance, amongst other things, Tough hypothesizes that they will develop stronger character and do better on every front. And it’s not like he pulled a rabbit out of his hat, here. He has spoken to scientists, researchers, doctors, psychologists, economists, and educators in order to come up with his theory of the ideal learning conditions for raising children to be successful adults.

And of course, parents, educators, and other adults play a major role in the process of early development that can set up a child for future successes or failures. In Tough’s estimation, garnered from his research, it is not the relative level of affluence or poverty that affects a child’s ability to succeed, for example, but rather the amount of stress and upheaval suffered, or a general neglect of cognitive or emotional development. Children who are raised in chaotic and unstable environments may have a much lower chance of success in the long run. And while Tough has some ideas about how to change this situation, his main goal with ‘How Children Succeed’ seems to be starting a conversation with the people who have the power to affect change, namely parents and educators, as well as giving them vital information on how their behaviors can affect the chances for the children in their care to succeed in life.

So before you start planning the path that will send your infant to Harvard Law or help him earn a UC MSN degree, perhaps you should take the time to listen to this well-researched and thoughtful audio book. You may just discover that a focus on test scores is the wrong way to approach your child’s education. And in the process, you could develop a sense of what you can do to give your kid the absolute best chance to succeed now and in the future.

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