education | October 24, 2012

A Keynote by Education Speaker Paul Tough: Adversity Builds Character & Success

In his keynote speech at the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Conference, education speaker Paul Tough posed a provocative theory: "what if by protecting our kids, we are doing them more harm than good?" The author of How Children Succeed argues that the development of character traits such as grit and self-control are more important for success than cognitive intelligence. Bearing this in mind, he argues that adversity builds and strengthens these character traits, and that failure helps children develop the abilities needed to persevere and succeed in life.

"Moderate amounts of adversity are helpful," says Tough, "it gives kids a way to manage failure." While most parents have an instinctual urge to protect their children from harm and hurt, Tough found that children who had experienced few, if any, incidences of adversity in their lives were no happier than those who had experienced a great deal of adversity. There needs to be a balance between the two, however. Tough doesn't suggest that experiencing tremendous stress and hardship will always correlate to success later in life. Nor does he believe that parents should never shield their children from adversity or soothe them when a traumatic experience occurs. Rather, he says that a moderate amount of adversity helps to strengthen stress response systems so children are better able to deal with tough times and learn from their mistakes. Those experiences, coupled with having parents who support and comfort their children through these difficult times, will help ensure that a child can develop those ever important "character" skills that can help them do well in life.

These sweeping changes to commonly held beliefs about childhood development and education are addressed in depth in Tough's book, as well as in his highly requested talks. Tough provides audiences with valuable insights while still maintaining a light-hearted demeanor (even throwing in a few jokes to lighten the mood when necessary). His style of presentation combined with his breakthrough ideas make him one of today's most in-demand education speakers.