Saturday, December 10, 2011

Competition and our kids

Two weeks back the peapod participated in a few competitions in our church, story telling, singing and colouring. While I was waiting for her to be done with hers, I was in the audience to about ten 10-12yr olds singing, mono acting and doing some other stuff as well. There were 2 of them who clearly outshone the others. The same evening, back home, we were discussing that with a few smart kids, its probably going to be very difficult for the other kids in the class to win a single competition. And this is a class of 8-10. The 2 of them had hijacked every competition. It got into a lot of back and forth accusations between kids who won and who lost. Quite a ego booster to the parents of the kids who won but the rest of the parents got quite angry and it got into a lot of side-alley talks and discussions and tears. At that point I was actually thinking maybe the kids who deserve it should win. Their parents have invested time and effort coaching the kids so yeah if they win every competition, fair enough. Others need to suck it up and work towards the new benchmark.

I have spent some time the last month preparing peapod for her story telling session. She picked up really well and then slowly we put in little actions and worked on her diction and pronunciation. It didn't happen over night. Its difficult to get her interest for more than 10-15 mins spread over a week. Now, she gets a 2nd and I am pretty happy about it. But here is the deal, one of her best friends got the first and another didn't make it. Its confusing to the peapod to understand the implications of first, second or not being there. There is a zonal competition this weekend. It sounds like fun but this is getting serious, parents and the older kids are getting annoyingly arrogant about winning and others are becoming sore losers. In all its not the kind of spirits that should be around christmas time.

I am not going to wash myself of the competitive parent spirit. I am as guilty as the next parent since we all get pushed around to feel and do by what is going on around us. I will cut myself some slack by just saying  that this is early days for me and hence I am caught fumbling in the dark when the peopod wants to understand the science behind the numbers. As I answer the peapod's questions about the firsts and seconds and why some of her friends didn't win, I am wondering if this explanation is even right. The deal is, now that my child is second, I want her to improve and the obvious target is that coveted first prize so I have to tell her that she needs to do better than her best friend and the other kids to get the first position. This can't be healthy. Infact I am actually pitting her against her friend which cannot be right. When she asks me about why did her other friend not make it I have to explain there are only 2 spots and the best of the lot wins. Again that is not right as well. The one who did not make it isn't any less, she is as smart and sparky as any other. Why am I telling my child that her friend didn't do well. A year or two of this pitting against each other in school and church and I am not sure if they will remain friends.

Coming to think of it, what good does competitions serve. If you win, you have the pressure of maintaining that. If you loose, you work hard to beat the best. Can a competition remain healthy however noble our intensions? Its necessary to teach new skills and hone them but do we really need competitions to do that? The superiority feeling some kids/adults get by winning becomes obstacles in building friendships and keep a level head about things. Also, many real life problem worth solving cannot be solved alone. It requires people with different skill sets to come togather, work togather and create something. A lot many people today are stars in their own right but you put them into a group to work out a solution and they hardly fit. I have heard many people boast of their accolades but when it comes to work, nobody wants to work with them. Worse is having two people who are trying to outdo each other in a project. Some adults carry their competitive spirit too far by comparing everything with another, the job, the money, the hubby, the kids, the help, the dog, the rat and stay frustrated. I mean its easy to loose your grip with this competitive thing.

One of the articles by author Alfie Kohn that I was reading said

Think for a moment about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop healthy self-esteem, to accept themselves as basically good people. You want them to become successful, to achieve the excellence of which they're capable. You want them to have loving and supportive relationships. And you want them to enjoy themselves. These are fine goals. But competition not only isn't necessary for reaching them -- it actually undermines them.

Competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth. Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it's obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn't build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you've done. Worse -- you're a good person in proportion to the number of people you've beaten.
Competition leads children to envy winners, to dismiss losers (there's no nastier epithet in our language than "Loser!"), and to be suspicious of just about everyone. Competition makes it difficult to regard others as potential friends or collaborators; even if you're not my rival today, you could be tomorrow. This is not to say that competitors will always detest each other. But trying to outdo someone is not conducive to trust -- indeed, it would be irrational to trust someone who gains from your failure. At best, competition leads one to look at others through narrowed eyes; at worst, it invites outright aggression. Existing relationships are strained to the breaking point, while new friendships are often nipped in the bud.

I think his article is dot on. The whole philosophy of school or our sunday school in this case was to teach kids about many things. The logical way to end a year is to ask them what they learnt the whole year and showcase it to the parents. In case of the sunday school, I believed, since each class was made of 8-10 kids, the kids get a voice, get noticed, get a chance to get on stage, get a chance to showcase better than their school. It doesn't matter if my kid is 1st or 2nd or if she didn't make it to the list but the fact that she could face an audience and ramble away her story with confidence is good enough.  Most of the winning and losing is about the parent in us who wants to boast about how smart our child is. I think cconscious effort needs to be made to teach and hone various skills and to keep away from competing in a way that is almost serving no good purpose. We need to teach kids to to be humble winners and gracious loosers and for that we as parents need to loosen up a bit and give the competitive spirit a break. 

1 comment:

Choxbox said...

Well-said, 100% with you.