On the radio the other day I heard part of a Brian Lehrer interview with Alfie Kohn, author of The Myth of the Spoiled Child. The interview was primarily a response to the recent swell of support for “grit” in raising and educating children, and the research of people like Angela Lee Duckworth and Carol Dwek. Here’s an article about the discussion (doesn’t include the part of the interview that I heard): Does teaching kids to get ‘gritty’ help them get ahead?

If you follow parenting stuff, you know what grit is because it’s the new black around here. Grit in this context is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). (Sorry, INTPs, there’s no hope for us and our fickle interests.)

I like the idea of it. I like the idea of a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. I buy into the idea that telling kids they are smart or gifted hurts them on the long term. I think we should encourage kids to stick with it. Sure, cool. Ok.

But the interview was presenting the counterpoint from Kohn, which could have been interesting had he not sounded so cornered and defensive. He overcompensated for the sake of argument and implied that encouraging or challenging kids to stick with their pursuits through hardship was an action mutually exclusive from love. Like, as parents, we choose one or the other. Either you push your children into excessive achievement or you love them, as though that were the argument. Either/or.

I was thinking, wow, that guy really must have felt cornered to take it that far because isn’t it a given that parents who are into grit (or whatever) also love their kids and raise them with love and encouragement and support? Why should anyone have to actually verbalize that?

And then on the same day, I read this list of 11 ways to teach your child to share by that Dr. Sears fellow. Listen to this:

We have observed that children who received attachment parenting during the first two years are more likely to become sharing children in the years to come, for two reasons. Children who have been on the receiving end of generosity follow the model they’ve been given and become generous persons themselves. Also, a child who feels right is more likely to share.

(The second point is vague at best but I kept it in there so the idea was complete. Do with that what you will.)

So children who did not receive “attachment parenting” were not raised with generosity? Generosity is only offered with “attachment parenting,” like a boxed set? How can anyone take this seriously?

I’m tired of hearing experts discuss parenting as an either/or proposition with the opposing belief on one end and love/generosity/kindness/support/whatever lumped with their own belief on the other end. That’s a straw man used to trigger the tender, guilt-addled hearts of parents. That’s weak sauce, experts.

Putting my kid down for a second is not a sure way to raise an asshole (and the opposite may be true but that’s neither here nor there). Encouraging my kid to stick with something he started does not equate to ignoring a crying five-hour-old infant.

It’s just common sense. Also common sense: spoiled children are not mythical creatures.


Image credit: Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010) (I know, another low ball!)

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