Parents Perspective

Our Competitive Culture: Hate the Players Or Hate the Game?

boy with trophy
This week, Today.com reported that New York-based librarian, Marie Gandron, director of the Hudson Falls Public Library, wanted to ban 9-year-old Tyler Weaver from winning the library's annual "Dig Into Reading" competition. Why you ask? Because the five-time winner, who once again read more books than any other participating child in his age group, "hogs" the contest, Gandron told a reporter from Glens Falls Post-Star. Supposedly, Gandron would prefer that names be picked from a hat so that everyone in the reading club has a chance to win.

Regardless of which side of this controversial news story you support, it reminds us of the heavy emphasis our society places on "winning"—even at a young age. To better understand this issue, I spoke to Harvard sociologist Dr. Hilary Levey Friedman about her upcoming book, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, which launches next week. Dr. Levey Friedman explained that this focus on success in elementary-age children is linked to changes within the educational system, with a driving factor being the competitive nature of the college admissions process.

Parents are feeling pressured to prepare their children for future success, so many are enrolling their kids in competitive extracurricular activities (like dance, soccer, or chess, for example) hoping it will look good on a resume, gain the child recognition, and give him a leg up in the future. But I have to wonder, if we continue to focus on the competitive aspects of youth activities, will the fun factor fall by the wayside?

Our competitive culture, which continually emphasizes winning, sends the message to our children that success may be more valuable than enjoyment. Parents, coaches, and mentors are often all too eager to help a child find something at which to excel. And while we do need to teach our children perseverance and encourage them to reach their potential, we must also remind them the value of contentment with one's self, too.

Image: Boy with trophy via Shutterstock

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