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Educators and parents want their kids to seek challenges and persist through difficulty—but so often, they don't. It's all too familiar: John always takes the easy way out; Angel gives up at the first sign of difficulty; Anna falls apart when she gets a disappointing grade.
Of course, struggling students are especially vulnerable to helplessness and fear of failure. But even high-performing kids fall prey to test anxiety, or avoid that one subject that fills them with dread. Why does this happen? And what can we do about it?
The sad truth is that many students feel very vulnerable in school. For lots of kids, school is above all a place where they are tested and judged—often publicly—and where they feel inadequate. Sometimes, this vulnerability extends to the home, especially if parents place a very high value on perfect performance or are intolerant of failure. It's not what we intend, but it's what they experience.
The good news is that it's within our power to change this, if we know the keys to creating a risk-tolerant home and classroom culture.
To a female: “You’re so smart in math, you should be a teacher.”
To a male: “You’re so smart in math, you should be an engineer.”
These messages are systemic. Generations of women and men have been given these messages (and more like them) by their parents, teachers, coaches, professors, and other adults in their lives.
Walking through the halls of your school and overhearing the chatter of students in the hallways and classrooms, have any of these phrases ever caught your attention?
“What a loser!”
“He’s just a mean person; there’s no changing him.”
“She doesn’t fit in anywhere.”
Do you tend to think that your health was predetermined by the genes you inherited from your parents? Think again. Discoveries in the field of epigenetics are showing that we have a huge amount of influence on our genetic expression when it comes to health, well-being, and disease prevention.