Just Say No.
Remember the famous anti-drugs campaign spearheaded by Nancy Reagan in the 1980s and ’90s? You should (unless you ignored the message, in which case you probably recall nothing from those decades) because it was one of the last times parents ever said No to their children.
Today we have a generation that has grown up on a different kind of drug: Excessive Praise. And while our kids are the addicts, we parents are the pushers. So guess what? It’s time we declared war on E(P) and followed Reagan into rehab.
In this fight we can fall in line behind Ashley Merryman, author of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, who argues that parents need to stop handing out awards to Jonathon just for showing up, and quit praising every little thing Samantha does. Such low standards harm their development, she says, citing research to back her contention.
Her rallying cry for battle? “Fight for our child’s right to lose.”
That’s right. Lose. As in, not win at everything. (Pause for a moment to hear the screams of disbelieving members of the Parental Praise Platoon: “What? Is she on drugs?!”)
Well, if Merryman is high, the least she can do is share her bong with the troops. Because we all need a long hit of her strain of Common Sense.
Our excessive rewards and praise stunt the development of our kids, who grow up believing they are wondrous creatures who can do no wrong. That’s the kind of hallucination you get from bad drugs, and it’s right up there on the Insane Idea Scale with the notion that being stoned makes you a good dancer.
We do children no favour by shielding them from adversity. When they don’t experience failure, they don’t build the grit and character they’ll need to survive as adults. When they are constantly injected with praise for even the most trivial action (“Chloe, you sure are breathing well today… Good job!”) we teach them that the world is just waiting to hand them everything on a platter.
For this we must blame ourselves. We have allowed our fears about their self-esteem to outflank our job of preparing them for life. It’s as if we are afraid of upsetting them. Yet finishing the race without getting a ribbon helps them develop resiliency. And telling them that their half-ass effort at studying wasn’t good enough helps them understand cause and effect. Those are positive outcomes, even if they come with tears.
By staging an intervention that stresses the need to earn recognition rather than expect it, we can break the addiction. The first step is admitting that we parents have a problem, which is that we instinctively don’t want our kids to feel bad. But they can lose without being losers. (And yes, folks, some kids are losers. Just look at the boys our daughters bring home.)
The most important step in breaking the cycle, though, is to change our patterns. So, parents, let’s put away those participation ribbons and instead recite those three little magical words that show you care about your child.
Just Say No.