iPad, iPhone, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, Snapchat, Instagram. These are just a few things our kids are addicted to and they all share one common trait; instant gratification. Are these devices creating a culture of people who quit at the first glimpse of boredom?
I began teaching martial arts to children over 18 years ago which allowed me to meet and get to know all different types of parents. Some had military like parent styles while others were free spirits who let their children run free without any restrictions. I have also had the honor of teaching thousands of children with all different personalities.
Since martial arts is not a seasonal sport, I have also had the chance to witness the entire journey a child experiences from beginning to end. For the majority of cases, this is how it usually played out.
1. Child shows interest in martial arts.
2. Parent finds a martial arts program for child.
3. Child starts attending classes.
4. Child says, “I don’t want to go to class.”
5. Parent allows child to quit and start new activity.
(Not all parents allow their child to quit after the first “I don’t want to go to class.” but the majority do.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I completely understand how annoying and mind numbing the sound of a child’s constant whiney voice can be. My children have the special power of completely changing my wife and my emotional state in less than 60 seconds. That is, if we allow it.
I also understand not wanting to force your child to do things that he or she doesn’t like. There were many times I did not want to go to martial arts class but my father made me go regardless. (My father was my instructor so I pretty much had no choice.)
There are very few things in life that are more enjoyable than seeing your child happy. But at what point do we have to put our parent hats on and make the decision for the child? In today’s culture, the only child related decision parents share as a whole is going to school. If a child says, “I don’t want to go school,” the parent never allows the child to quit because of two reasons.
1. Academics are a nation wide, cultural norm all parents accept as a requirement for their child.
2. It is the law.
I believe the absolute most important job a parent has is to give their child the tools to become a successful adult. That being said, we must ask the question, “What makes an adult successful in life?” Here are my answers in no particular order.
2. Social skills
Now let me elaborate on how I came to these three traits.
Intellect. I don’t think there is one person who would disagree with me on this. Having a sharp intellect is extremely important based solely on the fact that although our bodies will weaken and become less useful over time, our minds can and need to stay sharp until the twilight years. A simple example of this; professional sports athletes who continue to be successful after their careers are over. Michael Jordan has continued his super success long after he retired from the game. Jobs that solely rely on the mind can be performed until the mind is no longer capable which is usually long after the body has failed.
Social skills. The reason for this answer is pretty simple. We live in a culture where we have to interact with others to get what we want. Whether it be ordering food at a restaurant or interviewing for a job, having the ability to communicate effectively with others is very important. The saying has probably been around since the beginning of time, “Its about who you know.” is so true it should be taught on the first day of business school. Without having appropriate social skills, a person will never meet the right people and will have a tough time finding the right job. Effective leaders must also have excellent social skills to keep their teams motivated and satisfied.
Character. I actually saved this one for last on purpose. In my opinion, strong character is the most important trait a person must have to be successful at anything. I also feel the importance of this trait has faded away from the minds of parents today.
It seems most parents will focus most of their time and energy on the first two traits; academics and social skills but completely forget about character. The child will be involved in math tutoring, math competitions, science competitions, reading tutoring, etc. That child will also be part of a soccer team, basketball team, baseball team, swim team, dance team, etc. And most of the time a lot of these extracurricular activities are going on at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong, all of these activities are important and beneficial to the child’s development. But at what point do we step back and ask which activity is best for my child’s future? Which activity builds my child’s character and teaches life lessons? The way I see it, for 99% of children, sports fulfill two areas in their life; entertainment and socialization. They do learn the important life skill of teamwork but how much of the game is the majority of the team supporting the one or two “all stars”?
The less than 1% who actually make careers from playing sports still need a solid intellect for, not IF but, WHEN their careers come to an end due to injury, not making the cut, or body failures. Michael Jordan.
Whether a person wants to be the next Elon Musk or Lebron James, success is impossible without having strong character. Things like grit, perseverance, and strong work ethic are part of someone who has strong character. Making good choices and putting others first are also part of the strong character category.
How is strong character developed in children? Through pain.
It is simple as that. Character is built and strengthened through experiencing hardship and pushing through the uncomfortable times. Character is not built through doing enjoyable activities. Character is not built through having fun. Character is built with sticking with one thing for an extended period of time even though it is NOT fun. Character is built through putting others first and doing the right thing even if it is inconvenient.
A parent could make the argument that they are building their child’s character through keeping them in one sport for an extended period of time. I would agree with this if the child experiences times of wanting to quit or doesn’t think its fun all the time. If the activity is fun and enjoyable all the time, it doesn’t build character.
Like I mentioned before, a lot of children today are over scheduled in too many activities. I strongly encourage parents to step back and look at their child’s schedule from a bird’s eye view. The last thing a parent wants is to overload their child’s time that is doing nothing positive for future development. Here are the steps parents should take when assessing the activities.
1. List the activities in order based on the “development impact factor”.
2. Categorize each activity based on intellect, social skills, and character. Some may have more than one.
3. Choose the activities that help the child in all three traits and rank the highest in the “development impact factor”.
In a perfect world, the child will only do activities that have a high development impact factor. But life is not only about doing the logically correct things. It is important to set aside time to enjoy life with the understanding that true joy is only achieved when the majority of the decisions we make are based on long term thinking. It is best if we teach our children this extremely important way of thinking so they do not live life based on short-term happiness.
At the end of the day, parents want the best for their children. It is our duty and most important responsibility in life to keep our children on the right path until adulthood. The decisions we make everyday either keep them on this path to success or steer them away. Making the right decisions requires parents to look past the tears and think about the future. There will be times the child will not be happy and briefly not “like” the parent. But if the parent is acting out of love, the child will eventually understand and appreciate the parent for the solid foundation that was given to them. Sometimes it is important to set aside the emotions and use adult logic to make the best decisions for our children.