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The Research on What Creates Satisfied and Successful Kids

I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic since 1980. When I was first diagnosed, the technology for patients like me was average at best. Insulin was available, but I had to take multiple injections every day; we measured glucose levels instead of total carbs and I had to test my blood sugar levels with a urine sample. They told me I could expect to live 20 more years. Today—while I remain a diabetic, my sugars are under much better control thanks to new technology. This spring, I will purchase a new insulin pump with a sensor that’s able to communicate with my pump and monitor my sugar levels automatically.

I love progress. I bet you do as well.

And humans have made tangible progress on so many fronts—like science, technology, medicine, psychology and loads of others. I wonder, however, if we’ve neglected some common sense on raising kids, teaching students and equipping young adults to function on their own. In some ways, we’ve regressed not progressed.

What Did the Most Extensive Longitudinal Study Discover About Kids?

The Harvard Grant Study is the longest longitudinal study in history. It was a study of 268 mentally healthy college sophomores at Harvard, between 1939-1944. It was done alongside the Glueck Study (1940-1945) of 456 disadvantaged youths in Boston. The studies tracked the lives of these students over the decades and continues to this day, although few are still alive. The goal was to discover patterns for what fostered happy, well-adjusted adults over the course of a lifetime. Some of the conclusions are predictable:

  • Those who embraced a community of close friends were happier as adults.
  • Those who had warm, caring parents as children were more satisfied as adults.
  • Those who had a happy marriage were the ones who experienced good mental health.

One common denominator, however, was less predictable.

When it comes to happy, successful adults, the study found a pattern in those who experienced this success and those who did not. Can you guess what it was?

Sweetheart—Did You Take Out the Trash?

Believe it or not, there was a close tie between successful grown ups and childhood chores. Yep.

Professional success in life—which is what we want for our students—comes, at least in part, from doing household chores as a kid. The people who ended up well-adjusted were those who had regular tasks to do around the house as an expectation of being part of the family. In the words of Princeton educator Julie Lythcott-Haims, it stems from building into kids:

  • The ability to see something that needs to be done.
  • The responsibility to take initiative for a task.
  • The capability to roll up your sleeves, pitch in and do it.
  • The capacity to contribute your best effort for the betterment of the whole.

Further, the study concluded—the earlier kids start the better.

So, Whatever Happened to Chores?

Some of you reading this, still have your kids doing chores around the house. More, however, have dropped this expectation from their parenting. We’ve replaced it with recitals, rehearsals, practices, games, competitions, homework and the like. The fact is, today’s kids might just be too busy to participate in family chores.

Here’s the slight difference between today’s activities and chores.

Unless we are careful, today’s student activities are almost always about them. The narrative is about THEM getting ahead; about THEIR playing time; about THEIR personal success.

  • Not the betterment of the whole
  • Not the sacrifice of themselves for a larger community
  • Not seeing what needs to be done and working at getting it done

In addition, it’s often doing only what the coach, teacher or trainer told them to do.

Certainly, I believe with good coaching, that extracurricular activities like sports, theatre and music can accomplish what I am talking about. Sadly, however, many teachers and coaches feel parents only push their child forward for their own personal success. Chores are inherently about sacrifice for the whole and today’s activities are often about self.

So, here’s my challenge.

Parents—let’s make our focus about equipping our kids to see the big picture, not just their own picture, a selfie. Instead of becoming obsessed with grades, scores and what college they get into, let’s become consumed with preparing them to do life well. What if we insist everyone in the family do chores—knowing the outcomes that will likely follow? This won’t automatically lead to them getting into an Ivy League school, nor will it enable us to put an impressive bumper sticker about our kid on the back of our Lexus—but in years from now, it will produce great people.

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