At our recent “Back To School” Parent Nights I shared the story about a man who came across a butterfly trying to come out of a cocoon. The butterfly seemed to be struggling so hard and the man felt sorry for it. He quickly found a small pair of scissors and cut the cocoon in an attempt to ease the butterfly’s burden. The butterfly emerged from the cocoon fairly easily but it had a swollen body and unformed wings. It needed the struggle coming out of the cocoon to force the fluid from its body into its wings to stretch and open them. This act prevented the wings from developing and the butterfly’s growth was stunted. It was never able to fly. By trying to take the struggle away from butterfly, the man actually harmed it.
So what’s the point, you ask? I recently read a report published by the National Center for Educational Statistics that stated just 59% of full-time college students seeking a bachelor’s degree in 2006 had graduated by 2012. (This may seem dated but research in education takes a long time.) The study surveyed over 3,500 students. A fifth of those surveyed (20%) said they didn’t finish their degree due to the inability to afford tuition. A fourth (25%) cited conflicts with jobs or families that stopped them. But researchers discovered that more than 50% of the reason a student drops out is related to mindset. The article said, “An essential mind-set characteristic is grit, which basically means the willingness to work hard for an extended period in search of a long-term goal, the ability to struggle through challenges. Most problems can be overcome with effort. Talent alone is insufficient for success. Grit measures the ability to continue to persevere day in, day out and power through the distractions and failures.”
Now you are saying again, what’s your point? As a principal of 29 years, I have seen a shift in our students and parents over the years. The culture of our society has grown into one that as parents, we want to shield our kids from the struggle. We don’t want to see them hurt in any way so we will do whatever is in our power to not allow it to happen. We have a generation of “helicopter” parents that are always hovering to protect the kids or “lawnmower” parents who try to mow down everything in their path.
Are you ready for this? Here’s the point you’ve been wondering about. It is good for children to struggle. As much as it hurts you, it helps them (in the long run) to struggle. Struggling is part of the developmental process in children. They learn more when they struggle then when something is simply done for them. They appreciate the results more, when they have had to go through a struggle to achieve the outcome. The struggle is what develops the grit, the perseverance, the tenacity, the mental toughness to finish what has been started. The struggle is needed and necessary.
So when your student struggles, love them through it but don’t intercede. If they have a disciplinary issue, let them endure the consequences of their actions. If they don’t get an award or are cut from a team, don’t rush to do something or buy for them or get them something as a replacement. They will recover and they will be stronger because of the struggle.
by Perry R. Banse, Assistant Superintendent, Middle/High School Principal