For generations our educational systems have stressed academic performance, and for good reason. In order to thrive, we need to develop talented individuals who can successfully lead us into the future. By now everyone has probably heard about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book by Amy Chua that describes how she raised her two daughters on a liberal regimen of academic homework and a conservative dose of play and socialization. Chua’s book has ignited passionate debate about how much emphasis should be placed on academics versus allowing kids to just be kids.
It is not my intent to criticize Ms. Chua, but perhaps between the violin and math instructions she overlooked some important lessons that can also affect her children’s chances of success – social development.In recent years there has been a renewed interest in the impact that social skills has on individuals and their well-being, and a new review of multiple studies helps to remind us of the importance that social education has for children.
A research article in the journal Child Development analyzed 33 studies and found that kids who were taught social and emotional skills had an average 11 percentile-point gain in their academic performance compared to children who did not receive such instruction. This gain was found over a six month span. The courses emphasized self-control, responsible decision-making, and how to develop and maintain positive relationships with peers and adults. The study found that these programs help kids form bonds with their teachers and may affect how attached they are to their schools. These factors are positively related with student achievement. Teacher-led programs that encouraged student involvement and role-playing were most successful.
The study’s authors indicate that this type of instruction might affect the physiology of the brain; in particular children’s executive cognitive functions that help them control their impulses and actions. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, we don’t have the luxury of returning to grade school to start over with our social educations, but as adults we do have the wherewithal to consciously choose how to act, and eventually our brains will develop accordingly.
So if you have little cubs running around the den try to remember that the most successful tigers are those that have learned to understand and cooperate with their fellow felines.