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Child'splay?

Competitionsandgradesenablechildrentolearntocomparethemselveswithothersveryearly.Andtheparents'expectationsareoftenhigh.TheKielbusinessethicist,JuniorProfessorMenuschKhadjavi,investigatedtheimpactofparentalambitions,andadvisesamorerelaxedapproach.

 

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Runfaster,jumphigher,throwfurther-theBundesjugendspiele(FederalYouthGames)areachallengeforschoolchildreneveryyear.Butwhilethesportyonescanlookforwardtocertificates,thecertificateofparticipationforthoselesstalentedcancausegrief.Oursocietyisstronglygearedtowardscompetition,"knowsMenuschKhadjavi,JuniorProfessorofBusinessEthicsattheCAUandtheKielInstitutefortheWorldEconomy(IfW).Asaneconomist,ourfocusoncompetitionisoneofhismainresearchtopics:"Whatdecisionsdopeoplemakeincertainsituations,andwhy?"Theanswerstothisquestionwillhelptopredicthowpeoplebehaveinthefuture.

AccordingtoKhadjavi,whetherpeoplegladlytakeoncompetition,orrathershyawayfromit,isalsoinfluencedbytheirparents.Althoughgenesplayarole,theresearchliteratureclearlyshows:Wearenotbornwithcertainpreferences.Weorientateourselvesbasedonsociety,"saidKhadjavi.Inastudycarriedoutwithhiscolleague,ProfessorAndreasNicklischfromtheUniversityofAppliedSciencesHTWChurinSwitzerland,heinvestigatedtheinfluenceofmothersandfathersinmoredetail.Theyhavenowpublishedtheirresultsinthe"JournalofEconomicPsychology".

Whatistheeffectofparentalambitionsonchildren?Intheirexperimentcarriedoutin2012,KhadjaviandNicklischgave84kindergartenchildreninHamburgandLowerSaxonytwotasks.Thethreetosixyearoldchildrenhadtorace30meters,whiletheresearchersrecordedtheirtime.Theboysandgirlsknewthattheywouldgetarewardfortheirefforts.Therewardswereage-appropriatetoyssuchascrayons,toycars,streetchalk,modellingclay,stickers,etc.Inthefirstrace,allparticipantsreceivedagift:theyreceivedalargergiftiftheywerefasterthan50percentofthegroup,andasmaller,cheapergiftiftheywereintheslowerhalfofthegroup.Inthesecondrace,thechildrenthenhadtodecide.Didtheywanttocompeteagainsttheirowntime?Thentheycouldexpectatleastasmallgift.Ordidtheywanttocompeteagainstthetimeofanotherchild?Thewinnerwouldthenreceivealargegiftaswellasasmallgift.Theloserwouldreceivenothing.

Theresearchteamhadpreviouslyobtainedtheparentsconsent.Indoingso,theparentsansweredvariousquestions,includingabouttheirhouseholdincomeandorientationtowardscompetition,forexample,howimportantthesportingandprofessionalsuccessoftheiroffspringistothem.Here,itwasnoticeablethatparentswhoassessedtheirincomeashigherthanaverage,displayedlessambition.Iwasnotsurprisedbythisresult,"saidKhadjavi.Parentswiththissocialbackgroundcandevelopamorerelaxedapproach.Eveniftheirchilddoesnotputinahugeeffort,heorshewillprobablystilldowell."

Theresearchteamalsonoticedthatslowerchildrenofambitiousparentspreferredtocompetewithotherchildreninsteadoftheirowntime-andoftenlost."Thechildrenenteredintoacontest,eveniftheirchancesofwinninglookedworse,"observedKhadjavi.Inanexperimentlikethiswithtoys,theconsequencesmaynotbesobad.Butwhataboutonthesportsfieldorjobmarket?Khadjavi:"Inreality,losersarenottreatedkindly.Frequentfailurecanbefrustratinganddiscouraging.Itiscompletelynormaltotestyourownlimitseverynowandagain.Butitishealthiesttoknowyourstrengthsandtoselectappropriatecompetitions."

Khadjavithereforerecommendsa"moderatedegreeofcompetitiveness-alsofortheadults:"Ihavetheimpressionthatparentsnowadaysaremoreuptightabouttheirchildrensachievements.Theyaskthemselvesveryearlyon,whethertheirchildwilldoA-levelsandgotouniversity.Andtheyaremoresensitiveregardingthechoiceofschool,andcloselyexaminethemigrationorsocio-economicbackgroundoftheotherpupils."Thequestionisthenwhetherwewanttobesuchacompetitivesociety.Khadjaviadvisesparentsnottopassontheirzealforcompetitiontotheirchildren,because:Creativityandfunareessentialforsuccess."

Author:RaissaMaas

Linktothepublication:
www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016748701630280X

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