We are ruining them. Our kids. Every day that we lavish praise on them and reward them for mediocrity we’re ruining them. We’re teaching them that showing up is worthy of enthusiastic applause. We are showing them how to excel at being average. We are lowering bars and lowering I.Q.’s. We are enforcing the destination not the journey. And we will one day send them off into the world to get a giant, blindsiding slap in the face when reality comes charging at them full speed.
I Am Guilty
I’m guilty of it. Most of us are guilty of some of this or all of this. It starts when you feel that all-consuming love for a small baby that needs you for everything. We marvel at them. We all think our babies are exceptional and amazing in every way. And that’s ok. Having a child feels like a small miracle. It is a life changing experience. We should have a few years of obnoxious, gleeful celebration. And we should encourage and cheer for every milestone with these little prodigies. Babies need the affirmation. They need constant encouragement and reassurance.
The problem is that while babies grow out of this need as they get older, the parents don’t grow out of the need to give it. We continue to applaud. Applaud them for going down the slide (when in fact gravity is to be credited for this feat). We gush over every scribbled picture. What happens when your kids catch you throwing away some of their 8,000 pieces of artwork? They flip out. They feel wronged. Because we have led them to believe that every paper that they grace with their crayon is a Monet. I know this. I have little prima donna artists who think it is sacrilege to dispose of their “art.”
Everyone Wins, Everyone Gets A Trophy
Know what makes winning not so fun? When everyone wins. All the time. Parents don’t want their little slugger’s feelings to be hurt when his team loses, so someone somewhere decided that all the kids should win. So work hard, Buddy! Show up to practice and maybe, just maybe… no definitely. You will definitely win. No matter what. Now that’s some motivation. Nothing gets the kids all fired up like “even if you win, you really don’t win because we don’t keep score.”
And everyone must get a trophy. Why? Because they showed up, dammit. You know what else everyone gets? A Tetanus shot. (well, sadly, that’s not actually true, but you get the idea) We have a generation that gets trophies for being on a team. Not for doing anything remarkable or winning a tournament, but just for showing up for games and practices. My son’s closet is full of these trophies. And he doesn’t care. They mean nothing to him. What did mean something to him was getting the game ball. Because not everyone got the game ball. And he had to earn it. It was special.
Life’s Not Always A Party
Our school adopted the “no homemade treats” rule. And some of the parents on Facebook acted like they were suggesting we feed our kids gruel and beat them with switches. A policy that is meant to protect kids with allergies was beaten down as a taking away of a childhood of joy. Nevermind that a child in the class could possibly die from an allergen in the sugary treat. The mentality that puts little Precious’ happiness with a cupcake over another child’s safety is one that confounds me and scares me. My child’s happiness will never be worth more than another child’s life.
And the parties… don’t get me wrong. I love a good party. But since when is school also a party palace for every holiday? At the risk of sounding like Wilford Brimley, when I was in school we had two parties. One at Christmas/Hannukah and one at the end of the year. These parties consisted of Kool Aid and a cookie and some games of Red Rover. We loved it. Try to do a party like that in school these days and you’ll get the eye roll from even the sweetest kindergartner. We’ve spoiled them with elaborate celebrations in and out of school for every holiday or event. Even made up holidays! The 100th day of school is to now be celebrated for the historical and cultural even that it is! *eye roll*
Now we have Elf On the Shelf grrrrr… Pinterest-ized Valentines ugh… and the “Naughty Leprechaun?” What the….??? Since when did we decide that St. Patrick’s Day was for the kids? Don’t they have enough already? St. Patrick’s Day is for adults. It’s for us to drink green beer and act stupid. Kids, all you get to do is wear a green shirt and possibly get pinched. Now sit down and eat your gruel before I get out the switch…
All Of This Results In…
Entitled kids. Young adults with no sense of self awareness. A child-centric childhood that teaches kids that the world revolves around them. That the world is a soft fluffy place that will never ask too much, will never scuff them up, that will never demand anything. That phoning it in is acceptable. That someone will always fix things for them. That they are everything. That they are special.
What’s wrong with letting your kids think they’re special? Nothing. Unless that’s all you let them think, all the time.
The more we tell them that every little thing they do is “special” the less special that compliment becomes. Pretty soon “special” is their default, not-even-trying mode.
Kids are always going to take the easy path. Why wouldn’t they? If they can get an “A” on a project for slapping something together in between playing Minecraft, then why would they push themselves? If their mild attempts are lauded as exceptional, they will never try to go beyond that. They will only reach as high as the bar we set for them.
So, no, you’re not special. Sorry kids, but you’re better off hearing it now. Before you try to demand a raise three months into a new job. Before you have to eat at Taco Bell every day, all while carrying your Prada purse that Mommy and Daddy bought you. Before you realize you will have to be the one to pay off the giant credit card debt you incurred because you deserved stuff.
So, it may sting right now. It may be a bitter pill to swallow. But heed this message now and you’ll find that hollow, empty feeling of getting awarded for all things all the time replaced with pride. With the confidence of doing hard work. Of knowing you’re capable of hard work. You will discover new emotions. Gratification. Fulfillment. Purpose. Self respect. All of that can be yours. As long as your realize that the only way to be special is to earn it.
(This post first ran on Drifting Through My Open Mind.)
About the author: Gretchen Kelly blogs at Drifting Through My Open Mind where she writes about anything that pops into her head. From life lessons to burning issues that need to be discussed to parenting conundrums. She even occasionally takes a stab at humor. A wanna-be groupie turned suburban mom, she tries to keep life interesting by seeing live music as often as three kids and life responsibilities allow. Somewhere between the daily routines and the ups and the downs, she writes. You can also find her at Facebook and Twitter.