Trainers for Four-Year Olds! Will Kids Pay a Price for Getting an Athletic “Leg Up?”

A year or so ago as I was waiting to give a presentation entitled, “A Balanced Approach to Navigating Youth Sports” to a group of preschool and elementary parents, a mom approached me and asked if it was okay if her kids’ “trainer” attended the session. This was a new one for me—4 and 5 year olds with an athletic trainer. I had visions of little kids doing boot camp-style exercises, but it turned out the trainer was a recent college grad with a sports background who was, according to the mom, “teaching them fun games that were sports related so they could begin developing a good fitness foundation.” Hiring athletic trainers is all part of the “earlier is better, more is better” arms race that pervades youth sports, just as it does academics (think Kumon, academic camps, tutors, test prep industry, and private college advisors). Now at seemingly any age, opportunities abound for parents to provide “additional sup …

Giving Your Child A ‘Leg Up’: A Short-Term Boost With Long-Term Consequences

As the school year winds down, many teachers assign thought-provoking, topical projects and year-end tests to allow the students to both synthesize the semester or year’s learning and also demonstrate an ability to articulate new knowledge. While assessment itself is a fiercely debated topic and is the subject of many ongoing studies, the essential goal for any type of assessment is to allow the student to demonstrate her or his understanding. Key word: student. While I feel confident that many parents can make a lovely model of Mission San Juan Capistrano and write some excellent paragraphs to accompany the fourth grade project, that is not the point. Unfortunately, there seems to be widespread angst about these final challenges. Performance on any particular task is perceived to either ‘make or break’ the year’s learning. Concerned parents want to be sure that their daughter or son’s work is the best it can possibly be, and here is where they veer fr …

A “Leg Up” or Cut Off at the Knees

In 1996 a young couple, Julie and Bill Clark, from Alpharetta, Georgia, invested $18,000 of their savings to produce a VHS (remember those) product called Baby Einstein. Julie, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom, and her entrepreneurial husband quickly added an extensive line of videos with names like Baby Van Gogh and Baby Mozart, beginning a Baby Einstein line-up that would eventually include multiple videos, educational toys and even a television show. The target audience for these videos was infants and children ages 3 months to 3 years (or perhaps more accurately, the parents who put their babies in front of these videos, so that mom or dad could jump into the shower, guilt free.) In any event, the Clark’s business skyrocketed, growing from $1 million to $10 million to $400 million in a little over a decade. Popularity and profits soared and, in 2001, Disney bought a majority share of the company. Estimates were that one in three American households with a baby owned at l …

Encouraging Failure to Promote Success

I often ask my graduate students, all of whom plan to be teachers, an unnerving question: how will they set up their classrooms so that failure is rewarded? The question forces us to confront our fears, and assumptions, about failure: “Wouldn’t that just encourage laziness or lack of effort?” the grad students ask. “Give students permission to give up?” A similar fear often governs our parenting. A friend confides that she’s worried: if her daughter doesn’t do well in school, she’ll lose confidence, and decide she’s just not that academic. Not only do we worry that failure will mar our children’s chances at future success. We also worry that it will mar their very identities, hurt their self-esteem, and create a self-fulfilling prophesy, an acceptance of failure. But if an identity built on failure is a problem, much research suggests that its opposite – an identity built on …

Failure, Adversity, Perseverance, SUCCESS

A pack of ninth graders rush into my classroom and insist that I come to the girls’ bathroom as quickly as possible. One of their friends is sobbing and refusing to come out. Apparently, she has earned an A- on a quiz, her lowest grade ever. This bright and capable student is paralyzed by the idea of perceived “failure.” Resilience and grit have been buzz words in both educational postings and the popular media recently. Resilience is the ability to recover from a challenging situation or set-back rather than being crushed by it. Grit is defined as: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. [Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 6, 1087–1101] Explicitly embedded in the definition of resilience and grit is failure. In fact, the only …

Why Our Children Need Successful Failures: And Plenty of Them

Remember your toddler’s first steps. Remember how your child let go of your leg or the sofa edge or the playpen railing, and on legs so wobbly that locomotion seemed impossible, he or she moved to take a step towards you. And you crouched down so your eyes were level with your teetering toddler and held your arms out so that there was a safe harbor to fall into. You held your breath, your own limbs quivered and your face urged your child to go, to try, to take those first steps. One. Two. Oops. Down on his well-padded butt with a look of stricken surprise on his face. But you smiled broadly, clapped in delight and erased the fear from his eyes with your own laughing eyes. You urged him to get up again, to try again. And he did. Again and again. Up, standing, teetering, swaggering, walking, running. A million fall downs and a million get up and do it agains. These forays were some of your young child’s earliest failures. But they were also necessary, strengthening his m …

The Right Fit vs. Collecting Colleges as Trophies: A Student’s Perspective on College Applications

For me, the college applications process started early and finished late. And it was anything but easy. I “narrowed” my top choices to a list of 19, and I started mailing out my apps the summer before my senior year of high school. By the time that the school year had even started, I was already getting admissions letters in the mail. But 19 sounded absurd to me, even at the time. After all, wasn’t I only going to end up going to one? And this is only one example of the handful of likeminded questions that were running through my head. The more I considered it, the less it made sense. But at the same time there was something speaking louder, which I couldn’t resist: the pressure to conform. I wanted to be a part of the college frenzy that was running rampant throughout my high school. I mean, it had started harmlessly enough—a few kids with Princeton shirts in middle school, rumors of summer camps at Duke—but by the time senior year rolled around, …

Fast Forward From March To December

Remember that early parenting moment where your child falls and skins her knee for the first time and looks to you to gauge an appropriate response? Should I cry? Am I going to be OK? The calm, quietly attentive parent lets her daughter know, yes, there is a little blood and maybe even some stinging, but you will make it. We learn early that our child’s reactions will mirror ours. Our resolve or, alternately, panic, will become theirs. Every March, a dozen or so former students wander back over to my middle school classroom to give me their college news. While most are ecstatic, there are always a few who are devastated. More often than not, these students point out that their parents are really disappointed. I wonder, is this a case of a parent’s panic being reflected through the student? Is the young adult really as dejected as he seems? Yes, college is more consequential than a skinned knee. Still, I have seen this student in action for years – conquering a diff …

March Madness

Every psychologist knows that there are certain times of the year when the phone starts ringing like mad. Winter holidays are one of those times when people’s hopes for idyllic family reunions often meets the reality of your uncle who drinks too much, your siblings who reliably don’t show up or your mother who thinks you married “down.” Most of us in the mental health profession stay close to our offices between Christmas and New Years, anticipating teary, disappointed calls from adults who find, once again, that their Norman Rockwell visions have turned into Edvard Munch’s The Scream. For decades, this was the toughest time of year for both patients (well, many people actually) and therapists, when old hurts, disappointments and wounds unexpectedly reappeared, often taking center stage. But times have changed and we have a new contender for the emotionally toughest time of year – and that is March – when college acceptances and rejections com …

There’s So Much Pressure. Do We Really Have A Choice?

Hi. Welcome to Courageous Parenting. Since you don’t know me yet, and I don’t know you, let’s start with a brief introduction. I’m Madeline Levine, co-founder of Challenge Success and author of the NYT bestseller, The Price of Privilege. I’ve been a clinical psychologist working mostly with teens and parenting issues for the past 30 years (Making me sound rather old. Probably an advantage to you since I’ve either lived through or treated most of the things that you are likely to be worried about.) I’ve thought long and hard about whether our current high-stakes, high-pressure culture is here to stay. Most of us seem to be participating in this culture, often in multiple ways, and just as often, against our better judgment. We worry about the schools our children attend. Are they rigorous enough? Have we done enough to give our kids a “leg up?” We hover over homework, track test scores, push for competitive sports and keep our ch …

The Outliers – A Student’s Perspective

This offering comes to us from Leah Messing, a college student and good friend of Challenge Success. Thank you for your insights, Leah! Sincerely, The Challenge Success Team In his novel The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the lives of today’s greatest success stories with a critical lens. He defies the common belief that any individual can rise through the top through purely hard work. Rather than attack the principle of a meritocracy, Gladwell provides a framework for success by including another circumstance that must be coupled with hard work: opportunity. He believes that when it comes to determining success, the opportunities one has been provided with is more important than his or her personality traits. Gladwell writes: “We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries …

“The BLOG about Sports”

Another close friend of ours, and one of our founders, is Jim Lobdell. Jim sent us the following, and we certainly do THANK YOU for it, Jim! You present some very useful thoughts. Cheers, Emerson Sports Blog I love sports. Throughout my childhood, I played pick-up games of virtually every ball sport, and then swam and played water polo in high school. In college, I played on two NCAA championship water polo teams, and into adulthood and middle age I’ve competed in basketball tournaments, triathlons, running events, and open water swims. I know playing sports offers kids an undeniable wealth of benefits, from fitness and fun to life lessons about teamwork, perseverance, and effort. But navigating youth sports today is tricky. With youth sports organizations now offering leagues for 4- and 5-year-olds, travel teams for 9-year-olds, and options for year-round involvement, some families find sports to be “too much of a good thing” and struggle to find a balan …