As your kids head back to school it's important to find ways to help them achieve academically. But a new study shows that social connection is a more important route to adult well-being than academic ability.
So test them on their spelling words and double check their homework. But make sure they still have time to make friends and connect with you.
Craig Olsson explored the relative importance of early academic and social pathways to adult well-being. His 32-year study shows that academic achievement appears to have little effect on adult well-being. Instead, positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are key to adult well-being.
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Put away those flash cards and read more.
"Well-being" here is defined as a combination of a few things.
- A sense of coherence
- Positive coping strategies
- Social engagement
- Character values
- Positive emotional functioning
There are other aspects of happiness that academic achievement helps with, such as job satisfaction, but as a parent I am interested in this holistic approach to well being as well. These findings suggest that parents should invest time and effort into activities (or a lifestyle?) that enhance social inclusion and connection for their kids.
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Social connectedness in children is defined by the following:
- The child being liked
- Not being alone
- The child's level of confidence
In adolescence social connectedness is demonstrated by the following:
- Social attachments with parents, peers, and school
- Participation in youth groups
- Participation in sports
The researchers found, on the one hand, a strong pathway from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being. On the other hand, the pathway from early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult well-being was weak. "Academic and social pathways are largely independent of each other … which points to the importance of parallel investments in social development of children," claims Olsson.
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This study supports the good old-fashioned notion that kids should be well-rounded, spend time with friends, play sports, do well in school, and hang out with their families. It really jibes with what I've been trying to do with my kids. But so much emphasis is placed on academic achievement these days, many parents feel like they just don't have time to focus on anything else.
That could be a mistake.
Craig Olsson concludes, "If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum."
- By Kacy Faulconer
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