What Parents Need to Teach That Kids Aren’t Learning in School

This is an excellent list written for parents from Zen Habits.

I want to emphasize the anti-competition point. I have become much less competitive the past few years and I think I’m better because of it. I’ve wondered aloud whether you need a killer instinct in business. I do think you need some of that at an organization level, but on an individual level a mindset toward cooperation rather than competition can be surprisingly effective. Do you agree?

Below are my favorites:

  • Investing. What is investing and why is it necessary? How do you do it and what are different ways of doing it? How do you research an investment? How does it compound over time? This is a good conversation to have with your teen.
  • Frugality. This is something to teach them from an early age. How to shop around to get a good deal, to compare between products of different prices and quality, to make things last and not waste, to cook at home instead of eating out too much, to control impulse buying. When we go out and do a shopping spree, including before Christmas, we are teaching them just the opposite.
  • Reading. Sure, we’re taught to read. But schools most often make this boring. Show your child the wonderful imaginative worlds there are out there. And show them how to find out about stuff in the world through the Internet, and how to evaluate what they read for credibility, logic, factualness.
  • Positive thinking. While critical thinking is an important skill, it’s also important to have a positive outlook on life. Sure, things may be screwed up, but they can be changed for the better. Find solutions instead of complaints. And most of all, learn to believe in yourself, and to block out negative self-thinking.
  • Motivation. Learn that discipline isn’t the key to achieving a goal, but motivation. How to motivate yourself, different strategies, and how great it feels to achieve a goal. Start them with small, easily achievable goals, and let them develop this skill.
  • Anti-competition. As kids, we’re taught how to be competitive. In the adult world, that’s how we behave. And that results in back-stabbing, undercutting, feelings of resentment, and other life-affirming things like that. Instead, teach your child how there is room for many people to be successful, and how you’re more likely to be successful if you help others to be successful, and how they’ll help you in return. Learn that making friends and allies is better than making enemies, and how to do that. Learn cooperation and teamwork before competition.
  • Develop intimate relationships. The best way to teach this is to develop an intimate relationship with your child, and model it with your spouse or other significant other (within appropriateness). Teach them the skills for developing these types of relationships, talk about the importance of it, and how to get through the bumpy parts as well. There are bad times in every relationship, but with the right skills of communication, empathy and compromise, they can get through them.
  • Organization. How to keep paperwork organized, how to keep things in their place, to to keep a to-do list, how to set routines, how to focus on the important tasks.
13 comments on “What Parents Need to Teach That Kids Aren’t Learning in School
  • Nice list, but sweet mother, “anti-competition” is the worst wording imaginable. I guess ElamBend beat me to that idea.

    What’s wrong with calling it “teamwork”, though fair-play’s also good?

    Anti-competition immediately brings to mind anti-trust/anti-combine laws.

    It’s an ironic quirk of the English language that “anti-competition” has come to mean extreme-competition (i.e., competition so harsh that it destroys others’ ability to compete in the first place).

    It’s important that kids know that too.

  • I used to be very aggressive and have since become very laid back. I often wonder if this new state of mind has hurt my ambition and my conclusion is yes and no. It has changed the nature of my ambition. I find myself to be more enjoyable today (as do others I’m sure) and am more apt to enjoy life. I’ve also become more patient which to others appears to be a lack of ambition, but in the back of my mind I’m just waiting for my moment to strike.

    I caution others, however, not to confuse being likeable with the need to be liked. If you are likeable and others don’t like you that is probably their problem.

  • My brother and I used to play non-competitive Monopoly. In that game, you strive to help your opponent win in any way possible, and they do the same for you. Gosh, it was boring.

  • I believe is illogical and extremely short sighted to conclude that competitive behavior leads to “back stabbing, resentment and other life-affirming things.” This is the type of thinking that suggest we abolish grads and teach kids that failure doesn’t exists; that they don’t have to work hard if they don’t want to. We should be teaching respect of others and ourselves rather than teaching kids to cower in the face of competition and hard work.

    Ben – do you teach your sales team to go into a meeting and present how Comcate’s competitors are just as capable of meeting their needs? Maybe the competitors will be nice enough to return the favor, but I somehow doubt it.

  • I think competition can be a good and healthy thing, especially when you recognize in the other a worthy adversary and you are approaching them from a place of respect. Competiton can be healthy…if the people are healthy.

    If the people haven’t resolved their inner conflicts, are lacking in class, and are coming from a place of scarcity, then it isn’t healthy at all.

  • Ben, bad timing. How can you do this? Many readers of your book are management consultants and remember your book’s just out. What you’ve just done is out-materialing them by robbing their enduring buzz word “killer instinct” and by advocating non-competition, you denied them a lifeline. [Now they have to rebuild their .ppt and that’s something they hate] Not to think of B-Schools that have an entire syllabus swinging around these terms.

    Teaching merits of investing to kids? Haven’t you seen the line before the Apple /AT&T stores that sell iphones? These kids think iphone is a “must-have” even at $500-800 plus AT&T talk time. Occasional anecdotes about successful people that epitomized these values (Warren Buffet, Bertrand Russel, Wordsworth) sure interests them, but I doubt whether they imbibe.

    That said, many of these aspects are best left to experience and adoption. That’s what sticks in the end.

  • @Anti-competition:

    I think it’s a matter of value given for value received in any transaction.

    There don’t have to be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in energy exchanges.

  • Ben,

    You and I have spoken about the “killer instinct” and whether it’s beneficial or harmful. My stance has hovered around the idea that if competition motivates me to produce better results it’s good, but if it instead produces bitterness, anger, and a slew of curse words – it’s harmful to my image of the world, other peoples image of me, and my overall well-being. I think Californians are much better at using this “internal competition” to drive themselves without much harm to themselves.

    In regards to the reading point and in line with the learning outside of schools there is a great David Friedman post defending unschooling that you’ll enjoy. I’ve just saved it for you in del.icio.us

  • “Killer instinct” is a bit of a misnomer. It implies a certain malice that I agree is counterproductive.

    What I do think is productive is a pragmatic ruthlessness, focused on doing what needs to be done to further one’s goals.

    Many times, when I work with young entrepreneurs, they are shocked when I detail all the different ways that people are out to screw them. They don’t want to believe that others would look out for their own interests at the expense of others. But we have to live in the world that is, not the world as we’d like it to be.

    Accepting reality allows you to turn this essential human selfishness to your advantage–you can figure out how to align your interests with other parties’ and vice versa. Then you can rely on self-interest, rather than goodwill, to accomplish your ends.

  • Your last point could be the most important aspect for tying it all together. You can every skill but sometimes getting things done is where everything falls apart. We had David Allen speak at a recent conference in March – http://www.undertheradarblog.com/under_the_radar_conference_032307.html
    and, as a parent, I was struck that this simple methodology was something that we parents forget to teach. It’s often endemic in upbringing – you could be the case in point – but not everyone has the skill set and the patience to teach their kids how to be productive.

  • I do think it is our responsibility as parents to encourage kids to read. And working with your child on reading is the key to a student’s academic success.

    When I first taught my children to read, I used a method of phonics, but quickly realized this worked for my eldest but not my youngest. She didn’t grasp reading. So after trial and error I began to realize she was a visual learner who needed both elements to learn to read. She only became successful in learning after the sound and visual were combined. And now she is reading at a higher grade level than her fellow students.

    I have seen a huge improvement, and suggest for anyone whose kid is struggling with reading to try using both sound and visual to help their kid overcome it too.

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