Teach your kids to quit with purpose

My son, who skateboarded every day last winter, appears to have quit skateboarding. I try to play it cool — he can do whatever he wants, is what I tell him, but I’m not thrilled with the decision: He’s good at skateboarding and it seems like a good balance to his cello and piano lessons. But he’s done.

What I remind myself is that quitting is an important trait of people who understand their personal value.

This makes sense in the workplace: if you’re in a bad job, and you know it’s a bad job, most career counselors would tell you to quit .

It also makes sense in school: if you are not good at school, you should not be doing school.

Lisa Nielsen has a great ebook/diatribe about why people should drop out of high school. A study by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that kids who drop out of school actually show high potential because they are quitting as a process of figuring out where they fit: “What this select breed of underdogs had in common was nothing but a unique set of personal beliefs (stemming from emotional stability, internal locus of control, self-efficacy, and self-esteem) about their ability to shape the future. Those beliefs translate into the ability to choose one course of action (entrepreneurship, less prestigious career path, etc.) while quitting others.”

The big problem is that parents who show no capacity for booksmarts expect their kid to have capacity. But intellect doesn’t work that way. It’s genetic. So we have a whole section of the country who is not born to be booksmart going through the motions of being booksmart in school.

According to the study, these students often do better than their peers in both earning power and satisfaction when they quit school and focus on what they are good at.

Parents often live in a bubble when it comes to kids. We think our kids can do anything, that they have unlimited potential. But actually, they don’t. They are limited by their genes. If we could admit, early on, that our kids will not be great at most things, then we could help them focus. Kids have a natural instinct to focus on what they like. Parents are the ones who thwart them.

So often, though, it’s the well-rounded kids who were rewarded over and over again for getting A’s across the board who cannot make the leap to the workforce. Which is why there is such a low correlation between school work and workplace success. And there’s low correlation between well-roundedness and success.

So let your kids quit whatever they want. That’s the best preparation for what adult life is really like.


13 replies
  1. Jana
    Jana says:

    I think it’s also important to let kids quit because it gives them the freedom to try so many thing without worrying that they will have to do it forever.

    My son has tried a lot of sports over the years and has settled on surfing. He’s good at a lot of other sports but really who cares? He loves surfing and continues to improve because he loves it that much. If I would have made him stick with roller hockey because he thought he wanted to play then he would have never found surfing.

  2. toastedtofu
    toastedtofu says:

    If you take a side in the nature vs. nurture debate, you are probably wrong. Both genes and environment are influential and measurable, especially in education, (which is why you are homeschooling.)

    There are many communities where intellectual pursuits are not even considered, and other communities where book smarts are punished or seen as inferior to physical or athletic skills, and to imply that is because of genetics will not help any of the intellectually capable people living in communities starved of intellectualism.

    You have intelligent parents, grandparents, and siblings, so if it was all genes you could ship your kids to inter-city Detroit, or a trailer park in west virginia, and then see them in twenty years at conferences giving talks about their successful careers. But you come from a family who had both a genetic intelligence and a culture of intelligence, both of which they passed on to you, and which you are passing on to your kids by homeschooling.

    It is important to encourage learning, thinking, and intellectual pursuits in children, which is something public school is not designed to do.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Great link. “Those beliefs translate into the ability to choose one course of action (entrepreneurship, less prestigious career path, etc.) while quitting others.”

    The secret sauce – The ability to choose one … quit others. Which translates into getting to know yourself so know why you are quitting!

  4. cris
    cris says:

    The concept of quitting has been an issue in my family as well. Just recently, my 12-year-old learned about opportunity cost in her math book (Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Economics – highly recommend!), which perfectly speaks to the point you are making. If you spend your time doing X, you take away time from doing Y. As with most of your posts, this one makes you think about the value of something that is so simply and widely accepted as bad (quitting) and makes you consider an alternative view (changing focus).

  5. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    Well, you are consistent at least — grad school is a waste of time, college is a waste of time, and now graduating from high school is a waste of time if you are not “booksmart”.

    You must be able to find some high school dropouts in your neck of the woods. Why don’t you interview them and see how well they are doing?

    • P Flooers
      P Flooers says:

      My little brother is a high school drop out. He quit at age 15. Got a job in 1992 as IT support, making 30K at age 16. (That flipped my Dad out.) After a few years of that, little bro got board, got his GED, spent two years in community college and to make a long story short, eventually finished law school at Washington and Lee. Now he prosecutes criminals for the state of Florida.

      Penelope, I think you are right-the-hell on, girl! I couldn’t agree more.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      i’m an hs drop out

      believe me- i credit that early choice with much of my adult successes and i know lots of successful people with the same feeling. wealth is not the only litmus, but of the several wealthiest people i know directly- all of them are either high school or college drop outs.

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    I honestly find it hard to take Jon Morrow or Bryan Caplan as serious experts in the realm of education and schooling – they offer their very own opinions and cherry pick from other studies whatever fits their own agenda.

    And I find it hard to subscribe to the 100% genetic disposition – there are too many examples, which show the role of nurturing and upbringing. Maybe Einstein’s genius can only be explained by genetics – however, had he grown up in the poor inner city segments of Berlin there is no chance he would have made it that far. And what is so bad in trying to have more booksmart people? Those who can read and understand – can you truly throw those out who have a harder time by just saying you are not worth it – you did not make it on your own the same way as the supersmart kid? So, its not worth to teach you all that stuff because the fact that you are not successful shows that your genetics are clearly not on par? This thinking leads into some really hot waters once you move out of the relatively comfy middle class realm.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Bryan Caplan is an academic. You should read his book. It’s all research that he pulled together from a really wide range of sources. It’s a great book. Everyone should read it. It really changed how I look at parenting.


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I did read large segments of his book and it definitely is colored by his personal view, but that by itself does not really discredit it – it contains interesting ideas. However, that he is an academic does not mean he is right and there are, as an other commenter earlier mentioned, many views and opinions and studies, which show that genetics is everything, or that nurture is everything. It is probably something in the middle – you cannot escape your genetic make but nurture is important to be able to fully use it.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Genes and environment are roughly equal here in my opinion and the opinion of these researchers on the Charlie Rose show – http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11978?sponsor_id=1 . In this interview, the discussion on this subject begins at approx. the 47 minute mark with Cornelia I. Bargmann, Ph.D. (She has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Rockefeller University.) The other members of the panel are Eric Kandel of Columbia University, Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Thomas Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health.

      • Gregory
        Gregory says:

        There are some limitations to the twin study research Caplan uses, but I don’t see that those limitations affect what Penelope is trying to say.

        1) The studies were conducted in rich countries. When there is famine or malaria good parenting is more important.

        2) The studies were conducted in the past couple of decades. You can’t really generalise the results to the 1880’s to say that nuture didn’t matter for Einstein.

        3) The parents in the twin studies had voluntarily adopted the children. They didn’t have children as a mistake and they aren’t teen parents. The parents weren’t necessarily rich but they were generally employed. The parents would have been screened by the adoption agency for drug and alcohol problems.

        4) The study population isn’t really large enough to say whether parents can help create what Malcolm Gladwell calls “outliers”.

        If you love your children, keep them healthy and provide a basic level of stability then in the end they will become themselves.

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