Sunday, May 18, 2008

Deprived of frustration?

I think today's kids are often being deprived of the essential emotion "frustration". Babies are picked up, entertained, placated, as soon as they squeak. Kids are given more toys than they could ever use, put in 'races' where 'everyone is a winner!!' (thought: if winning isn't what is important, why must everyone be a winner??) We don't set them challenges they may not reach, just in case we bruise their self esteem. We place them continually in situations where they will succeed with little effort. They are petted and coddled when disappointed and upset.

What's wrong with this? Do I want my kids to be upset? To cry with frustration?

Not particularly.

But frustration is the catalyst for learning and innovation.

If a guy one day hadn't been frustrated with the difficulty of transporting things from point A to point B we would never have had the wheel. Look at the face of an artist as they create. By far the most common expression is that of frustration. Of pushing themselves to achieve something they don't know how to achieve yet - or even know if they can achieve. A baby learns to crawl because they want to get from point A to point B on their own. So they push themselves, try out new ideas, learn what works and - hey presto - frustrated baby becomes mobile baby!!

Frustration is vital for growth.

No, hang on. Now I think of it, kids now days DO get frustrated.

I hear the howl of frustration when the parent in the supermarket refuses the chocolate. They are crying out because the rules suddenly changed from home where they get anything they want if they yell enough. The rules have changed, their power is gone and they are frustrated and angry that the world has shifted beneath their feet.

The kid who suddenly looses when they have been taught all their life that they are winners simply by virtue of existing and strikes out at school mates and teachers with frustration - earning the label "anger management problem" or "social skills deficiency" or even "aspergers" or "ADD" by lazy diagnosticians.

These kids have not met with frustration before, they don't know how to deal with it. Trapped with their frustration with no method of getting away, of moving on, of making it a catalyst for change and success, they implode. They loose their power, their drive. They become angry or simply apathetic. Their sense of entitlement tells them that they should have - they DESERVE - everything. They have been robbed of an inheritance they were assured would be theirs.

Among their ranks are Art Degree drop outs who collect their social security check and wait for an agent to drop by their house and ask them to be a brilliant actor/painter/writer. They are the check out operators that glower at you (as if YOU were the reason for their 'loss') and pack cans of baked beans on your bread and eggs. They are the strident protester that cries out at the timber industry's destruction of the forests, then goes home to their timber house in their poorly serviced and maintained car (spewing out pollution on their way) and stokes their wood fire to warm them while they prepare another five hundred paper pamphlets to post in people's letter boxes. Angry all they way that SOMEONE doesn't fix the environment.

I could go on.

So frustration alone does not cause learning and innovation.

Frustration + HARD WORK = learning and innovation

Frustration + experimenting = learning and innovation

Frustration + experiencing failure + TRYING AGAIN ANYWAY = learning and innovation.

Life isn't fair, it is cruel to teach your kids that it is. They may be wonderful, but being wonderful doesn't pay the bills or solve world hunger. A smart person who doesn't try hard gets no further than a very, very stupid person. In fact, I've met some very, very stupid people who have degrees because they turned in assignments when the 'smart' people were at the Uni Bar! Some of those stupid people were even professors!!

Failure is not the enemy, quitting trying is. Frustration isn't bad, unless we make it so. Loosing a race can be positive if it makes you want to run faster next time.

So my closing thoughts.

Let your kids get frustrated, then teach them how to work, experiment, deal with failure and try again. Run beside them, encouraging them and shouting out tips and hints rather then picking them up and running the race for them.

Don't let your kids grow up to be the surly check out operator who packs cans on top of my bread.


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