Study Shows Kids Persist Less When Parents Step In to Help

Okay, this sounds like something we all know intuitively, but it is cool that social science decided to put intuition to the test.

The abstract of a new study published in the Society for Research in Child Development holds that:

Children need to learn to persist through challenges, yet adults sometimes step in to solve problems for them. Here, we looked at how adult taking over related to children’s persistence. 

Apparently, the same way I move aside whenever my husband is willing to come figure out why my computer is acting up, tots, too, let their parents take the driver’s seat: “You’re going to do this for me? Great. I’ll grab a cold one and see you later.”

It’s not exactly “learned helplessness” — it’s more like unlearned fortitude. Who wouldn’t take the easy way out, when it’s offered?

Chicken? Egg? Parents over-helping kids think their kids are quitters, but…

A more detailed explanation of the experiment is here. Like — really detailed. The long and short of it is that kids either left alone or encouraged to think about ways to solve the puzzle (“Look for a red and white piece” “Does that look like the picture?”) soldiered on, while those with parents jumping in basically gave up. And then — when asked to rate their kids’ grit, those jumping-in parents rated their kids as “dispositionally less persistent.”

Which is sort of like rating a dieter “dispositionally less persistent” when you run your study inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken. And give your subjects coupons. And unlimited drink refills.

Everyone loves the idea of kids with grit, so a takeaway lesson is simply this: “[T]aking over impairs children’s persistence.” You can’t build grit when someone else is doing it for you.

Or, as we like to say at Let Grow: When adults step back, kids step up.