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Is Competition Harmful or Helpful for Kids?

Three high school girls, as part of a larger group, run up and down the beach

If you have kids, you probably have a good idea how they handle competition. One child may embrace challenges without blinking, and another may approach competitive situations with more caution.

But let’s face it. Competition is something humans have faced for as long as we have existed. We have had to compete for food, for shelter, for mates, and for power in our societies. Even as the many human cultures of the world have developed and advanced, competition has remained a predictable part of life.

So you may be wondering, is all this competition good or bad for your kids? I went to the internet to find out the latest word on this topic and found two interesting articles with very different perspectives on the issue.

If you remember an earlier set of posts on postpartum depression, I presented two viewpoints on the same topic so you could see both sides of the story. I’ll do a similar service here. Both articles are somewhat long but are very much worth reading in their entirety.

According to the first article from the New York Times, many scholars understand that competition is unavoidable in life. However, many also agree that the kind of competition our kids face today can promote anxiety and damage performance.

The author includes segments from several expert interviews as he pursues the truth about kids and competition. Each expert lays out a different viewpoint on competition, and some offer ways to redefine competition for kids.

While the article doesn’t come off as completely anti-competition, it does suggest that parents will help their children by modifying the way they perceive competition.

The second article from the New York Times focuses on how a person’s temperament equips them to handle competition. Some people are built to handle the challenges of competition, and some worry and perform poorly when competition arises. While I can’t go into the details here, the article describes these variances in terms of genetics and neurochemicals.

The article also explains how stress and anxiety can have a positive role in competitive situations. It’s also possible to train a person to handle competitive pressure in one area of their life, even if this goes against their general temperament.

Overall, this article redefines stress and competition more positively. It suggesting that people can learn how to manage the stress that comes with competition, even if it goes against their natural tendencies.

So did we answer the question about competition being good or bad for kids? I think you need to decide. Both articles quote viewpoints from professionals and experts, and both cite research studies.

Even if you agree more strongly with one article, you can value important information from the viewpoints presented in the other article. Readers, what are your thoughts on this?

Creative Commons License Mike Baird via Compfight

Is Competition Harmful or Helpful for Kids?

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2013). Is Competition Harmful or Helpful for Kids?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Mar 2013
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