Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Question of Character

The New York Times has been exploring the issue of character in education lately.   A few weeks ago, the Science section featured a piece about how school curriculums generally fall short on the bigger lessons that lead to life success, arguing that traits like self-control, motivation, focus and resilience are a better predictor of long-term success than academic performance and test scores and encouraging parents to praise hard work and effort rather than getting an A or being smart.

Similarly, Sunday's magazine asked "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?"  The article cited research that a set of character traits, roughly summed up by the concept of "grit," has routinely led to more longer-term success and even happiness, than I.Q.

I had all of this in mind today as I talked with two dads about "helicoptering."  I still want my high school freshman to text me when he arrives safely at school.  He's given me a little pushback on this, and even I have questioned how long I'll make him do this.  It isn't him I don't trust, of course.  Rather it is the big bad world.  When he is with his friends, as he is when he travels from school to football practice, I don't worry -- someone is there and will see if something happens to him.  But when he is by himself, I am totally aware that it will be hours and hours before I know that something has gone awry.  This led to the question of GPS in cellphones and more...

But the bottom line is: how much independence are we, as parents, willing to give up to our kids?  Having kids face minor setbacks is easy, but bigger failures - those that are grade-related or safety-related, make it much harder to let go.

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