On a recent project in Nepal, I had the opportunity to visit a number of regional villages and observe the role children and teens play in daily life. What was striking was to see countless examples of something that has been in the news a lot recently: behavior that displays what Americans would call “grit,” “character” and “substance”.
Possessing grit – the mindset and attitude that helps people overcome challenges, manage difficult responsibilities and rise to the occasion – is a character trait that educators, academics and workplaces increasingly see as an essentially ingredient to success. Numerous books and articles have expressed concern that Gen Yers have been so overprotected, indulged and catered to by their parents that they have a difficult time dealing with adverse situations and have a strong attitude of entitlement at work.
With that in mind, it was striking to see the dramatic behavioral difference between Nepali kids and the similarly aged kids I’ve observed in the U.S. On numerous projects studying Gen Y (kids born between 1980 and 2000) and Gen Z (kids born after 2000), I’ve observed parents treat their children in such a way that they are often overprotected, viewed as untrustworthy and (at worse) micro-managed. In contrast, Nepali children and teens are treated by their parents in a very different way. Elementary school children are trusted with serious responsibilities (including childcare and significant ‘adult level’ household chores), given autonomy to roam freely and play with things without Mom/Dad/Grandma’s watchful eye looking on, and when they fall and hurt themselves an adult doesn’t come running. The reason is they rarely cry. I saw at last half a dozen two-year olds slip on ice and take a hard fall. In the U.S. the child would typically immediately wail and Mom/Dad/Grandma would come running. Here, the kid simply takes stock of the fall, dusts themselves off, learns from their experience and continues on their way.
So what’s happening here? Why is the behavior of these childrenso different from what we commonly see in the U.S.?
Of course on a very practical level, for a household in a Nepali village to survive everyone needs to pitch in. Because of that parents do not coddle their kids or consider them untrustworthy. They give their children the freedom and responsibility to learn the ropes and the essential life skills that they’ll need to succeed. Another significant difference is that parents don’t constantly praise or reward their children like parents often do in the U.S. There isn’t any ‘if you do X, I’ll get you some ice cream’ incentive conditioning. Children do their chores simply because they know they’re supposed to: their family is relying on them.
What this produces in these kids are two things: the characters of “grit” that some feel children are so lacking in Gen Y and Gen Zers, and what Stanford University Psychology Professor and child development expert Carol Dweck calls a ‘a growth mindset.’
As Dweck explains,”In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment…Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports.”
What these Nepali children are demonstrating is the very behavioral characteristics that educators, academics and business professionals in the West wish Gen Y and Zers had. To make that happen, parents in the U.S. need to change their parenting approach and take in some insights from the Nepalis:
– Give your kids clear, manageable responsibilities.
– Encourage collective ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit within your household.
– Trust your kids. Give them the room to try things, fail, and learn from their experiences.
– Give your kids supportive encouragement but hold back from developing an incentive or reward structure.
I think you’ll be amazed at how kids can rise to the occasion.