Fostering Healthy Competition Among Adolescents

Adolescents often compare themselves with others in the areas of intelligence, athleticism, social status, possessions and income. At its core, it all comes down to competing with one another.

When we compete, we do one of two things: we win or we lose. For kids have a healthy concept of competition, winning shows that dedication and hard work (in this particular situation) paid off. They can celebrate their accomplishment, while understanding it won’t always go this way. Likewise, when they loose, they understand that although a loss can be momentarily upsetting, it does not signal anything wrong with the individual. It presents an opportunity to learn and grow, and also allows the young person to use self-control and good sportsmanship by congratulating their competitor.

However, not all kids have developed a healthy mindset with competition. They might be quick to think the situation was unfair, someone cheated, or a judge or referee was playing favorites. They get upset if they don’t have the newest gadget or popular article of clothing. As adults, we might be partially to blame. We bad mouth a sports team for losing an important game or unconsciously mention that something is old or dirty, emphasizing the need for new objects.

Some parents argue that rivalry and competition are healthy, promotes hard work, and good per-formance. It’s part of life. You can’t always win a prize. While others believe it’s harmful to chil-dren and creates a toxic environment for children to develop. It should be more about making friends and growing as individuals.

How do we resolve the competing views on competition? How do we help kids understand they can’t always have the best and brightest?

We can’t, and shouldn’t, eliminate competition all together. But, we should work to be more self-aware in how we promote its value. Young people must learn the difference between competition and collaboration, understanding that in many areas of life, it’s about teamwork. And by learning to accept defeat, they can truly appreciate the wins. Both winning and losing allow adolescents to have an accurate view of the world, so it’s important they get used to feeling both.

Jeff Abell is the Teen Advisory Council Program Coordinator at Youth Resources of South-western Indiana.