A new book by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson is already getting attention, because its title says it all: "The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives." When kids have some un- micromanaged moments, they discover their own drive, interests, and grit.
Look back on your own childhood. You probably remember doing something -- or many things -- that were not for a grade or trophy, but just for fun. And BECAUSE you were "self-driven," you developed all sorts of skills that are harder to get in an adult-run, top-down pursuits. And if your whole life is adult-run, top-down pursuits, or being driven BY an adult TO them, it can be demoralizing, even stunting.
Here's a snippet from an NPR interview with Stixrud:
Let's start with a basic definition from the book's title. What does it mean for a child to be self-driven?
When I used to do psychotherapy, I was struck by how many young adults I saw who said, "I feel like I've spent my whole life trying to live up to other people's expectations. I want to try to figure out what's really important to me."
I think that the self-driven child is driven by internal motivation as opposed to other people's expectations, rewards, insecurity or fear.
To be self-driven, kids need to have a sense of control over their lives and are energetic about directing their lives in the direction they want to go.
This is what Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray calls the internal locus of control:
Without an internal locus of control you feel like you are a victim of circumstances and powerful others, rather than someone who can handle your own problems, or deal with disputes.
Nailing the same point again, here's the conclusion of Sixgud's NPR interview:
You say the best way to motivate a child for the things you think he should focus on is to let him spend time on the things he wants to focus on. Why?
There's a scientist by the name of Reed Larson who studies adolescent development with a strong focus on motivation. And he concluded some years ago that the best way to develop a self-motivated, older-adolescent adult is to encourage their participation in their pastimes — in the stuff they love.
The point he's made is that, if a kid is deeply involved in something that he loves to do, he's going to create a brain-state that combines high focus, high energy, high effort and low stress. Ideally, at least in our professional lives, that's where we want to be most of the time. We want to be interested, engaged, active, alert, and focused but not highly stressed.
In my own experience, I was a C+ student in high school, but I spent at least two or three hours a night working on rock 'n' roll music. I was in a band and learned to play instruments and learning chord structure and practicing harmony parts. Oftentimes, I'd tell myself, "Well, I'll go into my music room for half an hour, and then I'll do some homework." But commonly, two-and-a-half hours later, I'd come out and have no idea where all the time went.
I feel that I really sculpted a brain that, once I found something professionally that really speaks to me, I could go pedal to the metal.
To let your kids sculpt their brains, give them some free time to pursue something that won't necessarily get them into college. (But -- shhh! -- it just might.) - L.