Thursday, August 18, 2011

Parents - Do Kids Need Adversity to Make Them Stronger?

A friend of mine and I were swapping stories about our experiences in the Army. Most of them had to do with the amazing challenges we faced. We had some good laughs.

But the theme of these stories was a serious one. The adversities helped shape us. They made us strong to deal with the problems and crises we face in our businesses today. My friend related this familiar quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

"But that isn't true for everyone. Sometimes adversity breaks people. Look at the guys coming back from the Middle East with PSTD. A lot of them are committing suicide," I said.

"Right. It doesn't make everyone stronger. Some of my buddies from Vietnam still have problems after all these years. But not everyone is ruined by the stress of combat. I wasn't. You weren't. It made us stronger. I think you have to already be strong when you go to war to be stronger coming back from it."

That too was confirmed by our stories. We had already faced a lot of adversity before going in to combat. We were ready.

And then my friend said something surprising. "One way to take the measure of a person is to imagine this scenario. Say a person was taken away from his life, stripped naked, all his belongings taken away, including his name and his identity. And say he was deposited in the middle of a foreign country on the other side of the world. What do you think would happen to him?"

I thought about it, and then I said. "I guess it would depend on who he was, how strong he was as a person. Depending on whatever personal strengths he had, he might eventually thrive. Or he might be crushed."


"If they dropped you in a strange land, they better watch out," I laughed. "In five years, you'd own several businesses and be running for office."

"You got that right," he said.

We talked more about personal strength, about how kids need to start getting strong early on if they want to be strong as adults. And about how parents aren't doing their kids any favors by giving them everything they want and protecting them from adversity.

"Kids need a chance learn about getting knocked down and getting back up. Parents these days think they have to shelter their kids from that. It's a mistake," he said.

"I think if parents want to prepare their kids for life, then they need to expose them to how the real world works early and often. Put them in situations that parallel what will happen to them as adults."

"Team sports are good. Getting a job is good. Earning money to pay for what you want is good. That's how life works."

Useful insights?

Or just a couple of old farts sitting on the front porch telling war stories?

I had the thought that most parents these days just want to keep the peace, believing that success is keeping their kids out of trouble, safe and happy. And if you want to be a super-parent, you save up for their college education. I don't think many parents are asking this question: What am I doing to give my kids practice for what they'll have to do when they're grown up?

Another thing they could do - give their teens these books...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls)

Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .


Craig Hughes said...

I really like this post, Denny.

Some great analogies.

Really agree with the point you're making here. We stress the importance of 'practice makes perfect' in almost everything, why shouldn't we encourage our young to tackle adversity to prepare them for it later in life when the stakes are higher?

I would expect those with a psychology background to take issue with your suggestion that adversity in their youth would have better prepared some people for war and possible avoid PTSD but I appreciate that you are using this to explain the basis of the conversation with your friend.

Anonymous said...

I've learned the hard way that it's best to let the world teach your child adversity, while providing them a safe place to cope with the results if you want them not to abandon their ability to trust and feel secure along the way.