Is Competition Good for Our Kids?


My wife and I had a spirited discussion (code for, almost an argument) last night on the topic of competition as it relates to the human condition and parenting.  The defensiveness, and resulting venom we directed at one another, came from our differing opinions on the subject and how we wanted to approach the parenting of our sons.  My wife’s take, is that competition, in general, is a bad thing that brings about an overall negative.  I disagree, and respectfully allow her the space to have her opinion.  I’m writing this post to clarify my position, not to devalue her’s or anyone else’s for that matter. 

Let me start by saying good, bad, or indifferent we live in a competitive world.  That is an indisputable fact.  Even animals are competitive and it serves them by creating a pecking order that improves the particular species overall.  As competitiveness is instinctual for animals, I believe the same is true for humans.  It is our intellect, higher reasoning skills, morals and ethics that keep us in check in how we approach and deal with our completive nature.  This is what separates us from animals, yet I believe our competitive nature also improves our species as well. 

It is competition that has pushed people to do things beyond their scope of belief.  Competition can improve lives, be a catalyst for positive change, and reset “bars” that humans believed were set in stone.  For example, the sub-four minute mile run stood unbroken for well over 60 years, but when Rodger Bannister broke through that “bar,” nine different men broke the same record within the next year.  Why?  Because of that awesome human quality that says if someone else can do it, so can I.  What was previously unbelievable, now became a competition to see who else could do it as well.  I’m supposed to tell my son to denounce this incredible instinctual spirit within him?  No way. 

What I must do is teach him how to deal with his competitive nature and to use it in a positive way.  He needs to know the measure of a man is not his “winning” but in his willingness to do his best.  What others do, is only a “bar” of what can be done.  Now, it’s my job as his father to help him learn how to be a good winner and loser.  Also, it is very important to help him separate his quality as a human from his achievement.  Achievement or winning has no bearing on ones value as a human being.  It is my job, as his father, to reflect and teach that.  Along those same lines, it is our job to teach our children solid ethics and morals as they compete. 

This is where we, as a society who is attempting to devalue competition in our children, are doing an injustice.  We want to harvest people’s ability to learn the profound lessons that failure, or losing teaches us. It should feel bad.  We should reflect and find ways to do better.  That is what many aspects of life are about.  It is not, at all, an issue of external self-worth.  It’s the job of parents to teach that, and raise kids whos self-worth comes from within and is not threatened by “losing.”  God don’t make no junk.  I believe it is our duty, while we live here on the planet as spiritual beings living in a human experience, to love, learn and live life with joy.  Competition has an appropriate place in that methodology.       


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At it's essential core, the

At it's essential core, the competition you're describing is really "permitting the possibility of failure" --- and that is the piece that is so terrifyingly missing from our parenting.


Kids in 1st year university sobbing on message boards about how a 77% is the lowest grade they've ever received.... could've used more competition.


Keep it up - if only to have another voice in the middle this polarized world of "coddle them forever" vs. "Jeebus will save us from everything, now pray".