‘Prosperous life’ research highlights folly of conventional options

Thanks to info pouring in from the frontiers of neuroscience, psychology and sociology, I’m increasingly aware of the opportunities we have – as parents, educators and advisors – to positively influence the directions of learning and wellness, and particularly among children and youth.

To this end, new knowledge we have makes clearer the choices we have before us, and the distinctions we can make among educational, parenting and leadership options to make positive differences in learning and health outcomes.

This is underscored in two articles I recently read, reflecting research into emotional health of children, and also the degree to which children are inclined to higher levels of self-agency in their lives.

With respect to the latter, research conducted through the ‘Wellbeing’ research programme at the London School of Economics and published last summer (see article here), concluded that a child’s emotional health is much more important to their satisfaction levels as an adult than other factors, such as if they achieve academic success when young, or wealth when older.

A second paper I read, also published last summer in the journal ‘Frontiers in Psychology’ (found here) and reflecting research conducted by the University of Colorado, reported children who spend more time in less structured activities—from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo—are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults.

The former research links participation in less-structured activities to growth of ‘executive function’ abilities and notes that executive function skills correlate to important outcomes like academic performance, health, wealth and positive socialization, years and even decades later.

 CuriousBoy copy       BoredStudent

Which child in these pictures is more likely to enjoy better emotional health and self-agency, and, as a result enjoy a more prosperous life?  To no surprise, research confirms it’s the boy.

To my perception, both of these papers contribute to a growing body of knowledge from the domains of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Developmental Psychology questioning conventional approaches to learning and building emotional health in children and youth.

If we truly wish to nurture positive dispositions toward learning and self-agency in our children and young people, then as parents and educators we need to support options that go well beyond the conventional yet misguided beliefs that the foundations of a ‘prosperous’ life are reflected in standardized and highly structured environments. Research helps confirm this just isn’t the case.

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