Competition and tweens: good or bad?
One of the pressures middle school kids face is competition. Our society pushes kids to be winners, and maintains that competition builds character. According to Alfie Kohn (www.alfiekohn.com/parenting) competition is a bad thing. It “simply means that one person can succeed” only if others fail, and Kohn feels it is unnecessary.
According to Kohn, competition is counterproductive.
- “Competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth.” The child’s value is based on what he’s done.
- In a competitive culture, “success is defined as victory…the more the individual competes, the more he needs to compete to feel good about himself.
- Cooperation needs to replace competition.
- “Children succeed in spite of competition, not because of it.”
- Researchers have concluded that competition “often makes kids anxious and that interferes with concentration, and they can’t learn from one another.”
- “Competition is a recipe for hostility.”
- Cooperation strengthens communication, trust, and encourages students to be themselves.
- “Having fun doesn’t mean turning playing fields into battlefields.”
Cynthia Hansen wrote an article in Family Circle called Why Kids are Feeling the Pressure (www.familycircle.com/teen/parenting). Television shows like American Idol give kids the idea that winning is all that matters. Kids want to win in sports, school, and socially. Cooperation and support, on the other hand, create good team players who will succeed. The pressure to compete can lead to “paralyzing stress and can program tweens and teens for self-defeating perfectionism.” They may be afraid to try new things because they might make a mistake. Healthy competition, Hansen says, has realistic expectations, teaches discipline, goal-setting, and time management. Parent attitudes play a big role in this.
There are some healthy competitions in Los Angeles. For example, the Los Angeles County Mock Trial (www.crf-usa.org/mock-trial-los-angeles) is an opportunity for students to improve communication skills and increase self-confidence. In Watts, four Markham middle school students won a national engineering competition by constructing a low cost prosthetic arm (www.scpr.org) . Competition can be positive when it emphasizes the task and not putting down the opposition. Remember that teamwork and cooperation can produce wonderful results.