Thrivers cover

Thrivers - Book Summary

The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

Duration: 26:45
Release Date: April 21, 2024
Book Author: Michele Borba
Categories: Parenting, Education
Duration: 26:45
Release Date: April 21, 2024
Book Author: Michele Borba
Categories: Parenting, Education

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we explore "Thrivers" by Michele Borba, a compelling study from 2021 which delves into the modern challenges of childhood. As an experienced educational psychologist and best-selling author, Borba examines the high-pressure environments that today's children navigate. The book addresses the alarming trends of increasing achievements alongside rising levels of loneliness and stress among kids. Borba argues that our educational and developmental paradigms focus too narrowly on academic success, neglecting the essential elements that foster true happiness and resilience in children.

"Thrivers" is a crucial read for parents concerned about their children's future well-being, teachers grappling with the demands of a burnout-inducing education system, and psychologists dedicated to understanding child development. Borba uses her extensive experience and insights to suggest a shift towards nurturing thriving skills that equip children to succeed beyond traditional metrics like test scores and grades.

Join us as we uncover the key to helping children flourish in a demanding world, with insights from a leading voice in educational psychology and child development.

Discover the keys to raising happy, successful children

In an era where intelligence and ambition seem to be at an all-time high among youth, there’s a troubling counterbalance: increasing rates of anxiety, stress, depression, and sadly, a rise in suicidal thoughts among the younger generation.

The question arises: What are we missing?

The issue is, we've become adept at cultivating strivers — those who chase after every accolade, measuring success by scores and achievements. In this pursuit, we may have overlooked the essence of true success and happiness, which transcends academic excellence.

This narrative invites us to transform our parenting paradigm to foster children who are not just achievers, but thrivers — resilient, content, and genuinely successful.

In this exploration, you will discover:

- The importance of accepting that your child doesn't need to excel at everything — relief both for you and for them.

- Techniques to identify and nurture your child’s real strengths instead of imposing societal expectations.

- Insightful lessons from the Wright brothers on fostering curiosity and innovation in young minds.

Step into a new perspective of parenting where cultivating well-rounded, joyful children is the heart of success.

It's time to redefine success for the next generation

Imagine being a child today. What picture comes to your mind? Perhaps you think of the modern conveniences and digital tools that weren't available decades ago, suggesting a simpler, more connected life. However, diving deeper into the realities faced by tweens and teens across the United States reveals a starkly different narrative — a generation grappling with unprecedented stress and isolation.

Through a series of focus groups, the author brings to light the daily struggles and pressures that cloud the lives of many young individuals today. Children report having no time to indulge in friendships, pursue hobbies, or simply enjoy the pleasures of being young. Their days are consumed by academic demands, extracurriculars, and a continuous battle to curate the perfect online persona.

This lifestyle has left them feeling lonely, pressured, and perpetually on the edge of failing to meet towering expectations. This overwhelming scenario leads us to question the current definition of success which seems solely focused on academic and social media achievements.

A poignant moment occurred during a discussion with middle-school students in Boston. A young boy named Aiden, after listening to his peers describe their fraught lives, pointed to a nearby game featuring an incomplete wooden puzzle on its cover. He drew a comparison that resonated deeply, saying, "That puzzle is us — trying to fit into the world but can’t because we’re missing pieces.”

So, what are these missing pieces? From the perspective of these kids, it's clear that today's competitive environment prioritizes relentless striving over genuine personal growth. Children feel like products molded to excel in measurable achievements, yet lacking the essential human skills needed to navigate life's complexities. According to them, the education system and societal expectations have neglected the development of crucial qualities such as empathy, resilience, creativity, and self-confidence.

This insight leads us to an urgent realization — teaching kids merely to pass exams is insufficient and potentially harmful. What’s urgently required is nurturing a character that equips children with the ability to handle failures, foster relationships, and thrive amidst life's uncertainties.

Therefore, our goal should not be to raise high-achievers who risk early burnout, but rather to foster well-rounded, emotionally healthy individuals. By redefining success to include character development, we can ensure that we are not just preparing our children for tests, but for life itself.

Nurturing true talents unlocks children's happiness

In the hustle of contemporary life, where academic and extracurricular obligations fill the days of our youth, nurturing genuine talents seems increasingly sidelined. Yet, according to American psychologist Martin Seligman, author of "Authentic Happiness," the secret to true contentment lies in fostering self-confidence through one’s strengths.

Seligman suggests that true flourishing occurs when individuals leverage their inherent strengths in various spheres of life—be it work, leisure, or personal relationships. The joy and satisfaction derived from activities that resonate with one's aptitudes foster not only success but also self-assurance and, consequently, happiness. However, recognizing these strengths is the first critical step and often begins during the turbulent years of adolescence.

The essence of this insight is clear: if you yearn for genuinely happy children, it's pivotal to help them discover and cultivate their innate talents.

This principle is echoed by psychologist Benjamin Bloom in his 1985 study, "Developing Talent in Young People." Bloom identified a common thread among successful individuals who utilized their talents effectively: supportive parents who played a crucial role in identifying and nurturing these abilities from a young age. When young people view their skills as integral parts of their identities—they become not just children who swim or solve math problems, but athletes and mathematicians—this self-perception propels them towards self-directed growth, boosting their confidence and happiness.

However, today's teens face a significant hurdle that undermines this process: a drastic lack of time. Engagements with schoolwork, sports, music lessons, and an array of extracurricular activities consume their schedule, leaving little room to explore and engage deeply with their passions. This relentless pursuit of excellence in all areas not only breeds unrealistic expectations but also prevents children from investing the necessary time in activities that spark their genuine interest.

Consider the story of a 13-year-old girl from New York, who, despite recognizing her intellect and her parents' love, struggled with self-esteem. Her schedule was so packed that it kept her from practicing the violin, her true passion. It was only when her father allowed her to drop some activities to focus on music that she experienced profound happiness, stating that dedicating time to what she genuinely loved made her the happiest.

Understanding the importance of nurturing children's talents sets the stage for a transformative approach in parenting. By facilitating opportunities for children to explore and deepen their interests, parents can propel their children not just toward success, but toward a life characterized by self-confidence and happiness.

Embrace the unique strengths of your children

True achievement extends beyond the conventional benchmarks like grades, and while these indicators are undeniably essential, an overemphasis on them can be detrimental to a child's development. Let's pivot our approach and concentrate on nurturing the innate qualities that make each child uniquely capable and content.

The core idea here is simple yet profound: it's time to truly recognize and appreciate your children for who they are, not who we might want them to be.

Every child harbors particular strengths that resonate with their personality and intrinsic values. These strengths, or core assets, are the building blocks of their character and abilities. Whether it's a congenial disposition, resilience, empathy, artistic talent, or sporting prowess — these traits and skills define their potential for success and fulfillment.

Identifying these core assets is crucial and can be discerned through certain behaviors. Look for signs of tenacity where your child consistently pursues a goal despite obstacles or shows sustained enthusiasm and ownership over a particular activity often describing it as "my thing." These signals indicate deep-seated passions and capabilities that are central to their identity.

Once you spot these strengths, the next step is to affirm and encourage them. This isn’t just about offering blanket praise; it's about recognizing and validating their efforts specifically and constructively. For example, rather than generic compliments, articulate what exactly about their actions was admirable. Say things like, "Your patience in waiting your turn really shows your maturity," or "Your thoughtfulness in helping our neighbor really made a difference." This kind of targeted praise helps children understand and value their unique qualities.

Moreover, using 'earshot praise' can be a powerful tool. By letting your child overhear you complimenting them to others, you not only bolster their self-esteem but also reinforce their identification with those strengths. Imagine the impact of overhearing, "I'm so proud of how dedicated she is to her piano practice. She's really mastering it."

The ultimate goal is for children to internalize and recognize these strengths themselves. The moment a child declares, "Look, I'm an artist!" or "I guess I’m really good at solving puzzles," marks the point where they’ve started to see their unique value and capabilities. This self-recognition is crucial for building their confidence and shaping a resilient, joyful, and thriving personality.

Reviving empathy in a competitive world

Empathy, often visualized merely as the feeling of another's pain, is indeed a multifaceted trait encompassing affective empathy—sharing emotions, behavioral empathy—acting with compassion, and cognitive empathy—understanding perspectives. These dimensions of empathy don't just enrich personal interactions but are also recognized by educators and business leaders alike as crucial for academic and professional success. The Harvard Business Review, for example, highlights empathy as a critical skill in the global job market.

However, a concerning trend has emerged: empathy among young people is witnessing a marked decline.

The pressing issue identified here is that intense competition is chipping away at young people's capacity for empathy.

Research underscores this worrying pattern, with multiple studies revealing that current college students exhibit significantly lower empathy levels compared to those three decades ago. This decline coincides with increased stress and anxiety levels among students, further exacerbated by circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what exactly is fueling this drop in empathy? The relentless competitive drive ingrained in our education system and societal expectations plays a significant role. Consider the high-stakes testing environment where students are often pitted against each other, with success being measured by admissions into elite colleges. This zero-sum perspective on achievement fosters a culture where classmates are viewed more as rivals than as companions. A telling remark from a 14-year-old encapsulates this sentiment: it's challenging to foster friendships when peers are seen as competitors.

Moreover, modern practices such as posting grades online amplify this competitive atmosphere, placing students under constant surveillance not only from their peers but also from their parents. This ongoing scrutiny, as shared by a 16-year-old from Texas, makes students feel perpetually compared and judged, thereby undermining empathy.

This climate of relentless competition and the resultant emphasis on personal success have been linked to what some psychologists term a 'Narcissism Epidemic'. This phenomenon reflects a cultural shift where self-centered attitudes have reportedly surged among American youth over the past thirty years.

Addressing this empathy deficit is imperative. As parents and educators, nurturing empathetic skills in children from an early age is vital. This not only helps them navigate an increasingly competitive educational landscape but also equips them to thrive in diverse social and professional environments. By consciously promoting empathy, we can help counterbalance the competitive pressures that threaten this fundamental human trait.

Empowering children through emotional literacy

Is empathy an ingrained trait, determined by our DNA, or can it be cultivated like a skill? Shifting perspectives from genetic determinism, recent research highlights that a vast majority of our capacity to empathize is not hardwired but developed through experience.

A 2018 study in the journal Translational Psychiatry reveals that only 10 percent of our empathic abilities are genetically predetermined. This finding opens up profound implications — primarily that empathy can indeed be nurtured and strengthened like a muscle, with practice playing a pivotal role in its development.

Given this insight, there exists a potent opportunity, especially in childhood, to enhance empathy through what is termed "emotional literacy."

The fundamental idea here is that teaching children how to identify, understand, and articulate their emotions and those of others can significantly heighten their empathetic abilities.

Emotional literacy involves recognizing universal expressions of emotion—such as understanding that smiles often mean happiness and frowns indicate displeasure. It's akin to learning verbal language, where a shared understanding of symbols (words) facilitates communication. Similarly, a shared emotional language enables us to connect with and respond to others appropriately.

To foster this literacy, it's crucial to start with the basics: naming and discussing feelings explicitly. Guide children by using specific and descriptive language about emotions, such as, "It seems like you're really excited about your field trip!" or, "I noticed you're feeling a bit down. Want to talk about it?" Also, model this behavior by expressing your own emotions clearly — explain why certain things make you joyful, frustrated, or sad, paving the way for open emotional dialogue.

Enhance this learning process by encouraging children to consider the emotional states of others. Activities like imagining how different characters in a story might feel, or discussing how a friend might react to a particular situation, cultivate cognitive empathy. This not only aids in understanding others’ viewpoints but also deepens emotional connections.

Renowned psychologist Norma Feshbach suggests practical exercises such as retelling stories from various perspectives, role-playing scenarios, and predicting the desires and reactions of peers. These activities not only train children in the 'thinking' aspect of empathy but also enhance their capacity to relate emotionally.

By prioritizing emotional literacy from a young age, we equip children with the skills to navigate social interactions and build meaningful relationships, thereby enriching both their lives and the communities they are part of.

The diminishing spark of curiosity and creativity in children

Imagine the boundless curiosity of a child encountering the world’s mysteries for the first time—be it a toddler marveling at the complexity of dinosaurs or a young mind captivated by the historical intricacies of aviation during a museum visit. This inherent desire to learn and discover is fundamental, not just an adorable trait, but a core component of how children engage with the world around them.

Education specialists and psychologists emphasize the importance of curiosity, placing it on par with intelligence for its role in effective learning. However, despite its critical importance, there’s a troubling trend: as children grow, their curiosity and creativity often wane.

The unfortunate reality is highlighted in this discussion: Curiosity and creativity decline as kids get older.

Consider the explorative play of toddlers who effortlessly transform everyday objects into tools of discovery and creation. A wooden bowl and a plastic spoon become instruments of music; chalk and paper, mediums for artistic expression. At this age, limitations like “No,” “Can’t,” or “Won’t” hardly exist in their vocabulary. Their world is one of wonder and endless possibilities.

Yet, the natural proclivity for curiosity and creativity diminishes with age. Pablo Picasso once remarked that every child is an artist, with the real challenge being to maintain that artistic streak into adulthood. This challenge is daunting, as evident from a longitudinal study by scientist George Land, who observed 1,600 children over several decades. At age five, an astonishing 98 percent of them displayed levels of creativity akin to 'creative geniuses.' By age ten, this number plummeted to 30 percent, and by the age of 31, a mere 2 percent retained that level of creativity. This stark decline underscores a significant cultural and educational issue: children are unlearning their innate curiosity.

Several factors contribute to this decline. The increasing focus on standardized testing and the resultant deprioritization of unstructured, experimental learning play significant roles. As children grow, the educational system often emphasizes conformity and correctness, which are at odds with the messy, erratic processes that spur creativity and invention.

Additionally, as noted by psychologist Alfie Kohn, the shift towards external rewards — like grades, accolades, or even college admissions — further stifles curiosity. While such rewards might motivate short-term achievements, they often redirect the focus from enjoying the learning process to merely performing for incentives. This shift not only undermines intrinsic motivation but also diminishes the joy and engagement that come from learning driven by genuine curiosity.

To reverse this trend, it is crucial to reintegrate open-ended exploration and intrinsic rewards back into the learning environments of children, preserving and nurturing their natural curiosity and creativity into adulthood.

Fostering curiosity in your home environment

Acknowledging that academic achievements and grades play a crucial role in your child's education, it's important to remember that the routine of passing standardized tests may not fully engage their innate curiosity. This is where the importance of a nurturing home environment comes into play, offering essential opportunities for exploration and creativity.

The story of the Wright brothers, pioneers of aviation, illustrates this well. Orville Wright once noted that a key factor in their success was growing up in a home that actively encouraged intellectual curiosity. This kind of encouragement can be pivotal.

The question then arises: What kind of activities can stimulate a child's curiosity at home?

Consider the delight of Johnny, a seven-year-old from California, who experimented with raisins in carbonated and still water, eagerly exploring the reasons behind their different behaviors. Or Gianna, an eleven-year-old from Missouri, who channels her passion into creating websites on topics like animal endangerment. These examples underscore the benefits of open-ended, explorative activities that inspire self-driven learning.

So, how can you cultivate a similar environment that encourages curiosity?

Start by introducing open-ended tools and materials that do not confine children to 'correct' answers but rather inspire creative thinking and problem-solving. Items such as markers, yarn, finger paints, popsicle sticks, paper tubes, and masking tape can lead to endless possibilities for creative projects. Building makeshift forts from sheets and pillows or using flashlights to explore dark spaces can also ignite imaginative play.

Moreover, utilize thoughtful questions to spark curiosity. Inquiries like, "I wonder why the river is covered in ice?" or "Why are leaves green but the sky is blue?" can open doors to rich discussions and explorations that propel your child to think more deeply and critically about the world around them.

It's also crucial to ensure that your child has the time to engage in these creative pursuits. A packed schedule can often limit the opportunities for such valuable exploratory play. Consider what activities might be trimmed from your child's routine to allow more space for personal discovery and creative expression.

By embedding these practices in your home, you nurture not just a learner but a thinker—equipping your child with the tools to thrive in diverse situations and fostering skills like self-confidence, empathy, and creativity. This approach helps move beyond mere academic striving, cultivating a well-rounded individual eager to explore and understand the world.

Essential insights for nurturing thriving children

In today's fast-paced and competitive environment, children face numerous challenges that go beyond the academic pressures. They often experience feelings of isolation and stress, which suggests that despite their achievements, something crucial is missing. This missing element is character — essential traits such as self-confidence, empathy, curiosity, and creativity that are vital for leading fulfilling lives both inside and outside of educational settings.

Fortunately, these character traits can be cultivated. The key is for parents and educators to first acknowledge the multifaceted nature of these challenges and then take proactive steps to foster environments where these vital attributes can flourish.

Parents play a pivotal role in this process. By shifting focus from solely academic achievements to a more holistic approach towards child development, they can help their children not just succeed in the conventional sense but truly thrive by becoming well-rounded and resilient individuals. This involves creating opportunities for children to explore their passions, learn empathy, express creativity, and build self-confidence — fundamentally preparing them for the complexities of life beyond school.

By understanding and implementing these principles, parents can ensure that their children are equipped not just with knowledge but with the wisdom and character needed to navigate life's challenges successfully.

Thrivers Quotes by Michele Borba

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