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Based on your knowledge of American culture and child development, respond to BOTH
of the following sets of questions:
1. Is competition over-emphasized in American Society? Why? What are the advantages
of such a competitive attitude? What are the disadvantages?
2. Identify situations that you have observed in which competition has actually interfered
with people achieving a goal. Is competition emphasized in children? What
recommendations would you make to parents regarding their child's participation in
soccer, baseball, etc.?
In modern American society, competition is one of the most emphasized forms of
interaction. It has been heralded as the backbone of economic success, with healthy
competition believed to drive progress and innovation, especially in the sciences.
However, in recent years, there has been increasing concern with regard to the effects this
competitive nature may have on childrens developing personalities. Parents, especially,
have begun to ask whether competition has been overemphasized at the cost of childrens
The simple answer to this question, unfortunately, is that there is no simple
answer. Every individual is different, with different tolerances to stimuli, a phenomenon
known as differential sensitivity, which may be contributed to genetic differences (Berger
2014, pg. 21-22). This sensitivity is not the only factor. Human development is
described as multicontextual, that is, having a number of different contexts and
influences. Factors such as family and home life also play a significant role. While most
families in the United States emphasize personal achievement, sometimes beginning in
the earliest stages of development (Berger 2014, pg. 134), this is not the only possibility.
For example, children of immigrants from many Asian nations are quite likely to live in a
family which promotes modesty and shame (Rogoff, 2003), while the children of
Native American families may live in a household which promotes cooperation over
competition (Berger 2014, pg. 255). With this combination of factors at work, there is no
right answer for everyone.
Assuming that a child can handle the repercussions of a competitive mindset,
there are certain advantages. Assuming that the child can succeed on a regular basis,
there is a significant chance for increased self esteem as well as an increased respect for
peers, especially the ones whom the child is competing against (Berger 2014, pg. 245).

This can be especially significant for children who are lower in socioeconomic status
(Berger 2014, pg. 246). Once children reach the middle childhood stage of their
development- defined as ages 6 to 11 (Berger 2014, pg. 243)- much of their self-image
comes from the observation of their peers (Berger 2014, pg. 286). In a society which
emphasizes pride and self reliance, this increase in self respect can become a motivator
for self improvement and further advancement, including academically (Berger 2014, pg.
Unfortunately, if the child is unable to handle the pressure of competition, the
results can be quite severe. The very nature of competition involves increased stress,
especially during defeat. With repeated defeat comes the possibility of damage to self
esteem (Berger 2014, pg. 245), due to the same desire to compare oneself to others.
Given that same tendency in peers, if the child is potentially holding a team back, there is
the possibility of social rejection (Berger 2014, pg. 305). The combination of these
factors can have severe negative impacts on mental health, including depression, only
compounding self esteem issues. These are not the only potential negative impacts of a
competitive emphasis. Oftentimes, even adults become too caught up in the competition
to actually accomplish the goals they had for themselves. Members of Congress have
come under fire for divisive behavior, with the desire to defeat an opposing ideology
overriding the ability to accomplish much of anything. This behavior overflows to
almost all aspects of life. Any romantic couple who has gone out for an evening and
spent the whole night arguing just for the sake of being right has fallen into this trap.
However, even with this behavior evident in society, there are areas where steps have
been taken to limit their effects on children. Many schools have eliminated the traditional
bell curve grading structure, where it was possible for students to receive lower grades
than their actual scores would account for due to one students overwhelming success,
thereby lowering the pressure on academic competition. Even many youth sports leagues
(especially those for younger children) have ceased keeping score of games, and issue all
children participation trophies. For parents who may be concerned about organized
sports negative effects, these situations are a great compromise. This can be furthered by
being willing to change sports until a child finds one they have a natural aptitude for,
encouraging the positive gains.
Berger, K. S. (2014). Invitation to the Life Span (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Worth

Rogoff, Barbara (2003). The cultural nature of human devlopment. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press (Referenced from Berger 2014, pg. 134)