Reality Check: Kids and the Future

I work with kids, almost exclusively. As a T.E.A.M. Member for KICKSTART KIDS, I work in a public middle school, and the vast majority of my students are in the 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, with the rest of my students being former middle school students who are committed enough to continue training with me after moving on to high school.

In KICKSTART KIDS, we teach and train traditional martial arts, but a powerful impact is made by our class in the way that we teach kids about being resilient, about conflict resolution, about winning with humility and losing with good sportsmanship. We throw ideas of entitlement out the window by making each student earn their rank, and we teach them how to face failure with a resolve to go back, work harder, and then try harder the next time that opportunity presents itself. 

Martial arts classes are like this, but from my perspective, KICKSTART KIDS has an intensified version of this effect, because we see our students every day. We see them on their good days and bad. We see them on the days when they are ready to train and on the days when they want to be anywhere except the karate class. As a PE Credit alternate elective, and part of their daily class schedule, they have no choice but to “go to karate” every day. 

When you see your students in these different situations, a lot changes from the commercial martial arts setting where you only see kids on their “up” days. 

In our current society we have an overwhelming amount of hyperparenting going on. Yes…I did just make up a word, but it needs to be done by someone, so why not me?

Many parents out there today don’t just want a level playing field for their kids, which if it was what they wanted would be an understandable enough wish. The real world doesn’t work that way, but at least I could understand the desire. Many of the current crop of parents want equal results, or to have the rules changed in favor of their kid. I have heard of parents throwing fits because the date of a sporting event conflicted with the date of another event, and the parent even pushed so far as to request that the entire event be done again on a day when his kid could compete without distraction! 

This is a special kind of absurdity for which I do not have the vocabulary to describe without resorting to the liberal use of profanity.

In the martial arts, we teach students, children an adult alike, that competition is about being your best under pressure. Anyone can be great when there is nothing on the line. But when we are under the pressure of competition, we get a chance to truly test ourselves. Outside factors come into play, how do we deal with them? 

We didn’t get enough sleep last night, do we use it as an excuse or see it as an opportunity to find out how hard we can fight on under the circumstance? 

Our opponent is bigger, smaller, taller, shorter, faster, slower…better…than we are. How do we face it? Shall we give up or throw our absolute best at them and see if this is our day? 

A martial artist would look at these challenges and come up with one answer, fight on!

A non martial artist may come up with the opposite, and the modern parent, armed with hand sanitizer and smart phone would be finding a loophole in the rules to allow their child a first place prize. 

Rational adults can look back on their childhood and see that getting our feelings hurt, being picked last for a team in PE, skinned knees and stubbed toes, and even losing made us better. In an episode of King of the Hill, there is a line that describes it perfectly, “Sure we got bruised, and cut and burned! But that was how we learned that things were hard, or sharp, or hot!” We don’t want our kids to suffer,  I get it, but we need our kids to learn. 

As a parent of three of the most wonderful humans I could ever want to know,  understand the desire to have your kid be the best at everything. But as a thinking human being I know full well that this is not possible. This is why I encourage my kids and my students to be the best that they can be. But I don’t hide from them the fact that there are winners and by default that means there have to be losers. This is life in the real world.

There is a series of internet memes that I love called You had ONE JOB. The entire series is just photos of absolutely idiotic mistakes; a billboard installed with half of it upside down, a brick walkway with a red brick border, except for the one black brick suspiciously out-of-place, with a red brick in the middle of nowhere. Well, parents, you have ONE JOB; to raise a child equipped to survive in the real world. It is not to shelter them from reality, as this would only end badly or produce one more neurotic adult. Your job is not to ensure that your little Timmy ends up with the same job at the same pay as little Johnny from next door. You job is not to live out the life you wish you had through your kid. 

Failure is a part of life, and pick any wildly successful person you wish; if you read their story you will find failures along the way. 

It is how we humans learn.

Parents today seem to want their child to only experience success, even though that very concept is as ludicrous as the concept of a pendulum swinging only to the right. You cannot remove the pain of failure from your kid’s life experience and produce an adult human worth a spit. 

A bigger opportunity is missed here in teaching that failure is not the end of the world.