In the real ‘hunger games,’ there is no medal for ‘participant’

Times & Transcript (Moncton)
Mon May 4 2015
Page: A9
Section: Opinion
Byline: Steve Malloy
Twice a week, every week, for the last eight months, my son has been taking classes at Moncton’s Paradis Martial Arts in jiu-jitsu. He has an amazing instructor who teaches classes out of a dojo he built in his home in the north end of Moncton and my son loves it so much that if he was given the option of canceling Christmas or never going to jiu-jitsu class again, Santa would be out of luck.

Like other forms of martial arts, progression in jiu-jitsu is based on a belt system; with incremental levels of skill being represented by stripes added to your belt and a new colour achieved once you have acquired the required number of stripes. For eight months, my son has been working tirelessly to achieve his first yellow stripe on his white belt. After an intense one-hour testing session last Wednesday evening, he finally earned it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a smile so wide on his face, and he was so overjoyed on the way home that I’m pretty sure a fewhappy tears leaked out of his eyes.

That little piece of tape meant more to him than I’ll probably ever know, but I can confidently say that as a parent, there is no better feeling than watching your child finally accomplish a goal that they have been working toward. As difficult as it was to earn that stripe at times,’ he never gave up and persevered until he made it.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of him.

There’s another side to this story, though. I know other kids who are in various martial arts programs locally and abroad who are the same age of my son and younger. The difference, though, is after less than a year in some of their programs, they are already two full belt levels ahead. They rapidly progress through the grading stages, and it seems as though they are ‘earning’ a new stripe or belt grade every month. I know a nine year old brown belt – one level away from black – which is a designation that probably shouldn’t be placed on a child so young.

Why does this concern me? Why should you and I care about someone’s kid in a karate class earning belts too quickly? It’s because it’s a symptom of a much larger issue. It can be summed up in one sentence that goes way beyond our kids’ martial arts classes: “I’d never send my son to a class like your son attends because they have to wait way too long for any sort of reward.”

I’m going to come right out and say it now, parents; if you have this attitude about any pursuit your kids are involved with, you’re failing your children in a big way.

In our society of instant gratification, where every second kid seems to be diagnosed with some sort of attention deficit or behavioral disorder, what are you hoping to achieve by challenging them less in life and giving them a false sense of accomplishment when they get rewarded for just showing up?

In case you haven’t noticed, life is hard and things seldom get handed to you on a silver platter. Our job as parents should include doing our best to prepare our little people for the harsh reality that life is going to kick them in the pants sometimes. By offering a prize for every little thing they do, we’re sending the opposite message.

Instead, we’re building a society of kids who believe that everything they do is magic. The thought is that unless our children are being showered with praise and pointless medals and ribbons for everything they do, we risk hurting their fragile egos. We are, in effect, creating a generation of sheltered kids who will grow up to be maladjusted adults. Their ignorance of the way the world works will be overshadowed only by their sense of entitlement to the best of what life has to offer and bonus: with little to no effort on their part.

Maybe you think I’m overreacting. Well, did you know that in a province where half the population is functionally illiterate, we can’t hold kids back a grade level in school anymore? Yes, it’s more important to not separate a child from his peer group or hurt his feelings than it is to make sure they can actually read and write before they hit high school. Guess what happens to these kids when they get out and get their first jobs? They expect a pay cheque just for showing up – if they can even manage to do that.

Our kids need to be stimulated and challenged more – not less. On the way home from my son’s testing, he stared at the new yellow stripe on his belt and just kept repeating “I worked so hard for this.” He also thanked me for taking him to his classes every night and pushing him a little harder instead of just letting him coast on days when he felt like being lazy.

“I know you push me because you want me to do my best. Thanks, Dad.”

Your kids aren’t as helpless and fragile as you might think. They’re capable of great things if you expect more of them and they, in turn, expect more from themselves. Help them be great. If there’s one thing our future needs it’s more great kids that will turn into great adults.

After all, they’re the ones who will be looking after us.

Steve Malloy Steve Malloy is a retail manager and freelance writer who lives in Moncton. Sorting It Out appears every Monday.

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”

-Stephen King