Study Suggests: A New Generation of American “Quitters”

A new study asks:

How can we stop our country from raising a generation of quitters?

The study [reported at as well as The Learning Habit] cites this evidence:

In the United States, at least 36% of school-aged children will not attempt a difficult or strenuous task.  Furthermore, parents report that these children will quit tasks that are challenging “most or all of the time.”  In countries with more rigorous standards than those currently imposed by the United States, parents report that children are far less likely to quit.

The researchers point to techniques of parenting as the way to resolve this problem. Specifically, they suggest three things for children: Building habits through following rules; empowering children through choices; and encouraging children through “effort-based” praise.

This is probably all good advice. But it doesn’t, to me, seem to address the roots of the problem.

Children need to develop the very quality they’ll depend upon in order to survive, as adults. What is that quality? Reason. How is reason conveyed? By logic.

For decades, the debate has raged — either in academic/psychological circles, or simply in the minds of parents — between two basic approaches to parenting: authoritarian versus permissive. The authoritarian approach, in its extreme form, simply tells children what to do. “Listen up — or else.”

The problem with this approach should be obvious. While children do need rules, they also need explanations for rules. No, they should not have the final say — nor necessarily any say — in what the rules are. (That’s what permissive parents assume.) But the rules should be grounded in logic. And they should be explained to children when possible and appropriate.

The guiding rule of childhood should be: “If you want to do such-and-such, then … ” Logic takes the focus off parents simply telling children what to do, and shifts it towards using their own minds and heads.

Here’s how one website ( puts it:

At no time in history have parents been more unsure of their parental role. Even the best are not all that sure about whether they are using the best techniques. They say that their kids don’t appear to be much like the ones they knew in years past.

A lot of conflicting philosophies have been presented over the last 30 years. Many of these sound good, but don’t seem to do the job of helping children become respectful, responsible, and a joy to be around.

Many ideas, offered with the best of intentions, center around making sure that kids are comfortable and feeling good about themselves in order to have a good self-concept. However, we have discovered that self-confidence is achieved through struggle and achievement, not through someone telling you that you are number one. Self-confidence is not developed when kids are robbed of the opportunity to discover that they can indeed solve their own problems with caring adult guidance.

Well put. But again: How do you instill or foster self-confidence in children? The same way adults must maintain (or perhaps acquire) it: Through successful accomplishment gained by the thinking of one’s own mind.

If children are observed to be giving up more easily, you can debate whether the cause is poor self-confidence or simply laziness. But either way, the root of the problem is the same: Lack of attention and focus on the importance of rational thought.

Social trends are not helping, either. Increasingly, young adults greet a world with fewer jobs, less employment and greater access to benefits guaranteed by the government. This is uncritically accepted as a good thing by most people. But what kind of impact do you think this has on less confident kids? “Well, I can’t find a job but I can get free unemployment, health insurance and aid to families, if I have a child. Everyone says I’m entitled. Why not?”

I constantly hear from parents (and sometimes grandparents) who complain about young people who seem adrift and unsure about how to make their way in the world. This could only be due to the lack of confidence that comes from being “robbed” of admiration for — and repeated exploration of — the distinctively human tool of survival: reason, logic.

Accomplishment can only come from the exercise and repeated application of this tool in daily life. Accomplishment only means something if you achieve something with your own mind. This is why it’s pointless to do a school project or book report for your child, even if it resulted in an A-plus.

Philosophical trends are what ultimately set the course of a society. When a vast majority of people claim, in poll after poll or simply in daily conversation, that “something is wrong, something has changed, something is off base” but they don’t know what — it’s philosophical trends to which they’re referring. Kids pick up on this emotionally, which is probably why more of them give up. Their leaders — the adults — face a crisis of confidence and quite naturally their children, being younger and more vulnerable, feel it too.

For decades now, social and philosophical trends have moved away from reason, logic and rational intelligence towards … anything but.

Religious fundamentalists stress the importance of tradition for its own sake and faith in a supernatural being. But what does this have to do with self-confidence, self-initiative or personal responsibility? Young people — like adults — do not need “fear of God”; they need a respect and reverence for reality and reason.

Conventional “progressive” or “liberal,” educated types stress self-esteem. But they appear to define self-esteem as an emotional state of high self-regard, without ever mentioning its cause. The result consists of people growing into adulthood either chronically afraid or chronically feeling entitled to the world granting them a living.

If you think about it, both attitudes — humble fear or entitled brattiness — are two sides of the same coin. Without a confidence in your own mind alongside the power of objective and rational intelligence, you become frightened or angry. There’s no other way to feel when denied your tool of survival, enlightenment and self-fulfillment.

Even with these cultural trends, there will always be a minority who possess the confidence in themselves to lift themselves up through their rational efforts in science, business and innovation. But the philosophical trends have got to change if human beings are to maintain all that we’ve accomplished to date, and if we expect to go on expanding in the future.

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