Marie Roker-Jones looks at how parents do a disservice to their children by telling them they’re special.
When David McCullough gave his commencement speech last year at Wellesley High School, I applauded him for having the guts to tell these kids and their parents, “You’re Not That Special”. It’s about time someone told some of these kids to get over their sense of entitlement and to actually do something worthy in this world.
I am so sick of hearing parents praise their kids for everyday things they should be doing anyway. “You wiped your butt.” Here’s a reward. “You did your homework.” Here’s an incentive to keep doing it. Why are we so obsessed with making sure our kids think they’re so special?
I live in NYC, the mecca of parents who believe their children are highly intelligent, creative, artistic, exceptionally gifted in every area of their life. It’s no wonder we were named #1 city for the most spoiled kids. I can’t take a stroll with my toddler in Central Park without being accosted by another mom who feels the need to share the brilliance of her little Hayden or Spencer. I could care less if your toddler knows “chartreuse” is a shade of green. Tell me your toddler can make flan or crème brûlée from scratch, then I’d be impressed.
The problem is that we now live in a society where we want our kids to be happy and have a healthy self esteem. Yet, we’re causing more damage with this need to raise praise junkies. How will these kids cope as adults when they have to deal with adversity, failure and rejection? No one is going to give your child a medal or reward him for just showing up to work.
We feel so pressured to tell our kids that they are unique and gifted, but we don’t back it up with proof. Better yet. we don’t let our kids uncover their gifts and talents on their own. We’re so busy feeding their ego that we neglect to teach them to trust their instincts. Isn’t it more important that your son knows his strengths and his gifts and how he will use them to impact the world?
Maybe your son wasn’t meant to be popular or famous or wealthy. Maybe he was meant to be average but do great things in a small, quiet way. We don’t hear about everyday people who are making a difference in the world because some of them choose to be humble and not feel the need to shout to the world about their greatness. Some people are just doing simple, little things to make a difference in the world. No fanfare, no mom or dad boosting their ego.
When my son was tested for kindergarten and admitted to a K-5 gifted program, my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t let our son know that he was in the program. That is until 3rd grade when another kid in his class informed him that they were the “smart bunch”. We squelched any idea that our son had that somehow he was entitled because he was in this program. We wanted him to value education and be enthusiastic about learning.
I don’t believe that raising great kids involves filling them with empty praise and rewarding them for mundane efforts. It involves encouraging and supporting them to be a better person, taking into account their individual interests, learning styles and skills. It’s about loving them just as they are. It’s showing our kids the importance of doing for others without getting recognition for it.
In a society where kids are learning to claim their 15 minutes of fame through Vine or YouTube videos by acting outrageous, we need to remind you can’t rely on accolades for your self-worth. Lauding your kids every day, isn’t going to make them exceptional; it’ll make them mediocre. If you want to raise exceptional kids, help them to be intrinsically motivated to “be the change” in their own way.
Originally published on Raising Great Men