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Why we shouldn’t make our children compete

Why is it we subject our children to things that we would never put ourselves through? Take for example, a very sad episode that I witnessed at a track and field event many months ago. There I was, awaiting the beginning of my son’s long jump competition, when I quickly became privy to a child’s inner lament. Speaking to himself unabashedly in a way that only children can, this child of nine years or so said, ‘Why am I doing this? I hate this. I am not good at this. I always come in last.’ And while I wanted to console the child and offer him such platitudes as ‘this builds character’ or ‘you’ll be glad you did it when you are older,’ the realization was there in my mind that all of that was fluff.

You do not build character by failing constantly at something you do not want to do in the first place. And you certainly do not look back fondly on memories where your weaknesses were highlighted in public arenas for all to see. Certainly, there are things that must be learned; skills that must be practiced; evaluations that need to be conducted, but let us not try to convince our children that they must do this learning in a way that demoralizes them. Because here is a fact: we don’t do this to adults.

If this really built character as we tell ourselves, then there really should be a track meet where the slowest and most unfit were forced to run against their will; solo music performances where a man with two left hands was forced to play a song that he doesn’t like at a venue he would rather avoid; the list could go on.

But these are adults and not children you tell me. Yes, we agree on that. But I still do not know why that matters, and I certainly don’t know what to tell that nine year old boy.

Which reminds me: he came in last place…again.

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