Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mastery Over Performance

J is yet to show any interest in video games lesser still in owning any of them. I have to admit that I am curious as a non-gaming parent to understand what if anything she is missing out because of her nonchalance about something that her peers find so very compelling. I watch kids J's age and older immersed in their video games appearing to be completely disconnected from the here and now. Their skill levels are often remarkable (at least from my perspective). Even if I played one of those games for years, I would not be able to equal the performance levels that some of these kids have achieved.

That said, I have wondered how J might fare given her relative lack of exposure - and more importantly if that lack matters. Reading this excellent blog post on the what gaming can and cannot do for a child was most enlightening to me. I am big believer in the virtue of persistence and hard work and will never pass up an opportunity to reinforce that message with J. 

Being smart and quick, I tell her, will only take you so far. If you want to be a serious contender and be in it for the long haul you have to put forth the effort and never grow complacent. Whereas talent carries no guarantees of success, there is direct correlation between degree of effort and the resulting outcome. By when I have reached this part of my harangue, J knows that a recap of the hare and tortoise fable is not far behind and if not the well-known Edison quote. I absolutely love how this blogger puts it :

While a performance orientation improves motivation for easy challenges, it drastically reduces it for difficult ones. And since most work worth doing is difficult, it is the mastery orientation that is correlated with academic and professional success, as well as self-esteem and long-term happiness.

In childhood, it is remarkably easy to instill one orientation or the other. It all comes down to the type of praise you receive. If you perform well on a task and are told, "Wow, you must be smart!" it teaches you to value your skill, and thus fosters a performance orientation. But if instead you are told, "Wow, you must have worked hard!" it teaches you to value your effort and thus fosters a mastery orientation.

This is great parenting lesson and one that I will do well to remind myself of.

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