In defense of children quitting

Here’s a little story about how being a quitter turned out to be a really great, healthy decision for me.

As a kid, I loved to run. So, naturally, when I was old enough, I joined my grade school’s track team.

But although I enjoyed running, I was one of the slower runners, and there were some bullies on the team who constantly ragged on me.

By eighth grade, it got to the point where I was feeling physical symptoms (mostly headaches) at track practices.

So, I quit the team.

That didn’t mean that I didn’t still enjoy running or other physical activity. Once, one of my former team members who bullied me saw me jogging and, acting as if I had been caught red-handed, said, “I thought you said you quit track because it gave you headaches.”

I was like, “Yup!” — and went on jogging without further comment.

Winners never quit?

When I made the decision to quit the track team, I got push-back from some adults (not my parents, but other adults involved in the track program) who made me feel like I was being weak for not staying on the team.

So I guess if there’s any takeaway from this story, it’s this:

Parents, the ability to persevere toward a goal despite obstacles or setbacks is an important skill for kids to learn. Research has shown that grit, a character trait defined as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” predicts achievement in a wide range of circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean kids should be expected to put up with toxic environments.

We tend to think that encouraging children to stick it out in these environments toughens them up for the real world. But in the real world, if you find yourself in a lousy job with a toxic work culture, nobody blames you for wanting to get out and find a better job! In fact, most of us would consider it odd for someone to not have a desire to leave such a job.

Yes, it’s true that in some circumstances, toughing it out in these environments allows you to effect change from within.

But children are ill-equipped to do that. They typically lack the authority, influence, maturity, and the social and emotional skills to be able to survive in those environments, much less renovate them, without getting burned in the process.

So, please try to be sensitive to that before criticizing a kid for quitting, especially if the activity they are quitting is relatively inconsequential in the long run.

Sometimes quitting is absolutely the best decision for their mental and physical health.

About Shaun

Shaun Gallagher is the author of three popular science books and one silly statistics book:

He's also a software engineering manager and lives in northern Delaware with his wife and children.

Visit his portfolio site for more about his books and his programming projects.

The views expressed on this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his publishers or employer.

Recent posts

This online experiment identifies dogmatic thinking

Adapted from a 2020 study, this web experiment tests a cognitive quirk that contributes to dogmatic worldviews.

Read more

Distributism: A Kids' Guide to a Third-Way Economic System

This student guide explores three economic systems (capitalism, socialism, and distributism) and explains how distributism is different from the other two.

Read more

You can thrive in a high-paying career without being money-driven

What if making money is not one of your top goals? And what if you happen to stumble into a high-paying career nonetheless?

Read more

On compassionate code review

How to build up and encourage code authors during the review process

Read more

Rules for Poems

A poem about all the rules you can break — and the one rule you can't.

Read more

Other recent blog posts