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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Teaching kids to be successful

How does any parent raise a child to succeed in life? That is the most basic, yet profound — many might say confounding — question that any mother or father might ask.

Many parenting experts say it’s impossible to predict how successful children will be when they grow up. Moreover, they say, there is no way to predict which, if any, parenting practices will foster success –– or lead to failure.

Call such pundits the traditionalists, those who say that parents’ job is to feed and clothe their kids, provide them with a loving home and teach them right from wrong. Future success is largely up to each child.

As a nation, we mythologize children who have risen above their circumstances and achieved phenomenal success, seemingly on their own, without special privileges. Witness President Obama or, for that matter, President George Washington.

Washington wasn’t born into wealth. At 16 he struck out on his own, plunging into the dark and forbidding forests of Virginia to survey the wilds. He went on, eventually, to win the Revolutionary War and the presidency, achieving great fame and fortune. He was, by most accounts, highly intelligent and wise, even though he had relatively little formal schooling.

If only children (or adults) work hard, they will succeed. Or so our storyline goes. Part of us, though, understands that people don’t achieve success in life, either as children or adults, by themselves. Besides caring parents, raising a child into adulthood requires a small army of supportive relatives and friends, teachers and coaches, community and religious leaders.

But what if a child has none of the above? Or his or her parents are abusive? Or the community is dysfunctional? How, then, does a child succeed in this highly competitive world, with little to no guidance? Or all the wrong guidance?

These are the deep questions that New York Times best-selling author Paul Tough ponders in “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” (Mariner Books, 2013).

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