A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.Proverbs 17:17

One of the root causes of millennial and Generation Z having difficulty in life is that they have been subject to a parenting style that removes adversity, competition and failure from their lives.

A recent example:  the college entrance scandal where i) parents have paid tutors to take college entrance exams, or ii) have made huge donations, or iii) faked their child’s resume so that they appear athletic.

The parents are now being prosecuted for felonies and may spend time in jail.  The children they protected must live life under the stigma of having “cheated” the college admission system.

Students who were improperly aided have been expelled from college. Given the internet and its ability to record everything about a person, their fate will last forever. Search engines like Google or Bing will bring it up in any future background check.

I have twin grandsons, both soccer players (or football to everyone outside of the U.S.).  They played a tournament in Barcelona. In their first game, they met a Portuguese team that beat them badly. They weren’t prepared for a different style of play on a shorter field.

My son approached the loss with an almost ambivalent attitude.  While losing was hard, he said it was good for them to learn “how to lose”. I admired his wisdom. In today’s culture, few parents appreciate how important it is for the children to deal with failure or adversity.

My first taste of adversity came in high school. I transferred  from a local public school to a private school 250 miles away. My classmates seemed to be adjusting well.  I wasn’t, and I almost flunked out.

I had skated through public school without doing any homework. I didn’t know how to study. But I learned.

It took a summer of tutoring and taking a make-up Latin exam for me to stay in school. My parents did not interfere although they were supportive.

It was up to me to succeed or fail.  It was not fun at the time. I came out of the experience a stronger person.

Life is not about winning all of the time. Setbacks and losses need to be experienced in order for us to grow up.

To avoid impacting self-esteem, today everyone is given a participation trophy. No matter if they contributed or not. Everyone “wins”, except they don’t deserve it.

One result is that the next generation is afraid of failure, which often paralyzes them when making life decisions. They haven’t experienced  failure, and don’t know how to overcome their fears.

An essay in the Wall Street Journal highlights cultural issues with girls in particular. Having a healthy competitive drive is seen as essential for reaching “for the top”. Research shows that girls are conflicted: they are reluctant to compete because “they have trouble managing the stress and emotions that go along with competition.”

Boys are socialized to thinking competing is fun, even if they are battling their friends.  Competition, at its essence, means that there are winners and losers. Participation trophies don’t tell you who won a contest, race, match or event.

My take on female competitiveness is colored by my wife, one of the most competitive individuals on this planet. I know of no other person who times herself on the microwave when she washes dishes to see if she can “beat the clock”.

Her competitive nature is healthy. Everything (and I do mean everything) in life becomes a game, and it’s fun to be around someone who sees life that way.

It’s important for children, especially girls, to learn to compete and lose. Letting them win when you play against them actually is counterproductive because it sends a “signal that beating them is unkind.” Instead, one should encourage and celebrate a “smart move” within the competition.

A Harvard study covers the Science of Resilience: Why Some Children can thrive despite adversity. The conclusion: “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a committed adult.”

I didn’t need a Harvard study to tell me that.

The study goes on that “in the absence of responsive relationships [with a supportive adult], the “brain’s architecture doesn’t develop optimally.”

This is a clarion call for mentoring, particularly with a large segment of the next generation who grew up in single parent homes or had absentee parents in their lives.

Competition develops a sense of mastery over life circumstances and strong self-regulation skills. Learning to cope with manageable threats to our physical and social well-being is critical for the development of resilience.”

Life is learned through trial and error, winning and losing, accomplishing things and having setbacks. It is not linear.  But if you take the downside out of life, you produce a very damaged product. Having to walk the path alone with no mentor or parent to guide you is problematic.

The challenge here is that too many of the next generation are walking through adversity with no one alongside investing in them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Never underestimate your influence on your mentee when they face adversity.


The Science of Resiliency (Harvard)

Stanford kicks out student in college admissions scandal

Posts on Resiliency and Failure.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Holy Groundby Passion with the lyric: “Jesus Changes Everything”

Picture courtesy of Dan Rush.

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