Self-esteem. Entitlement. We hear these terms batted about a lot these days. Especially when it comes to our kids. Everyone from parents to teachers to elected officials is terrified of rupturing our children’s delicate sense of self. And what has been the result?
We seem to have created a generation of children who:
- Are poor at accepting constructive criticism
- Don’t believe they need to change and grow
- Have difficulty with the word “no”
- Have an inflated, unrealistic sense of their own talents
- Feel entitled to frequent rewards and recognition
- Have little sense of what it means to make an authentic contribution
- Have little desire to push themselves beyond their comfort zones
- Are very defensive and feel “I’m fine just the way I am”
Let’s be clear about one thing: self-esteem – an unshakable sense of our own basic worth – is a critically important ingredient for healthy development. But what went awry? Why is that with all of our efforts to raise children with high self-esteem, we seem to have done exactly the opposite? How is it that we have created, instead, a generation of children (often referred to as “Generation Y”) who live in protected, delusional bubbles? Why is there so much talk about an “entitlement epidemic”?
It’s all about Pain
The problem stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of pain – OUR misunderstanding, not our kids’.
Many (most?) of us were raised with shame. When we did something “wrong” or failed to meet expectations, we were devalued. We may even have been insulted outright, called names. We were given the message that there was something wrong or unworthy about us. As a result we became emotionally wounded. We don’t want to do the same thing to our kids. So we overcompensate by shielding them from pain.
But, in fact, pain and shame are two different things. It’s WE who have been unable to disentangle them.
When we hear the word “no,” when we see a “C-” instead of an “A+,” when we look at a losing score in a ball game, we equate it with shame because of the way we were raised. And so, in an effort to spare our children from being wounded, we try to shield them from pain. But pain is not what we should be worried about; only shame.
Because we don’t get that distinction, we shield our kids from reality. We shield them from truth. We would rather lie to our kids than allow them to experience their own wonderful, invaluable and instructive pain!
What are some ways we shield our kids?
- By telling them their work is “amazing,” even if it shows little effort or mastery
- By eliminating most forms of grading or performance measurement
- By giving prizes and awards to every child in order to spare anyone from being branded a “loser”
- By removing evaluative language from the classroom, dance floor and ball field
- By failing to correct flaws in our children’s performance in sports, the arts, or recreational skills
- By faulting the teacher if our child receives less than perfect evaluations
- By giving “everyone a chance” to play or perform even if they have not earned it
- And on and on…
Here is a funny poem about the subject
Selfish Steam (by Andy Wolfendon)
I don’t know what it is for sure, this thing called Selfish Steam,
I do know that protecting it is the latest grown-up scheme.
“You mustn’t tell the boy he failed his weekly spelling test.
You mustn’t break the news, his pitching’s not the nation’s best.
You mustn’t tell the girl she’s not the champ, you’ll squash her dream.
In fact, don’t tell kids anything – you’ll crush their Selfish Steam.”
“No, when we hold a contest we’ll give EVERY kid a prize,
We’ll hand some handsome trophies out to EVERYONE who tries,
And when they run a race we’ll say that EVERYONE’s the winner,
Then EVERYONE can be the best, from expert to beginner.
And when kids draw a picture, we’ll declare it ULTRA-GREAT!
Whether it’s the Mona Lisa or a figure eight.”
But if I get a trophy even when I haven’t scored,
And every effort, good or bad, receives the same reward,
Why should I try? Why do my best? And here’s what I can’t see –
If EVERYBODY’s special, what’s so special about ME?
When I grow up, is there a crop of which I’ll be the cream?
I probably won’t know much, but I’ll have tons of Selfish Steam!
Pain is our FRIEND
The truth is that by shielding our kids from discomfort, embarrassment, criticism, judgment, disappointment – from pain, in all its guises – we deprive them of a crucial opportunity to grow!
Pain is one of life’s greatest teachers. Pain is an ally, not an enemy. Pain is a signal that we have come up against a limitation that needs to be transcended. Without that signal making us uncomfortable, we don’t transcend. We don’t rise. We don’t become better than we were yesterday. We stay stuck.
Today’s parenting model is all about allowing children to stay stuck and feel good about it, rather than to grow.
Humans do not grow by avoiding pain, but by taking it on, pushing past it, rising above it. As parents, we need to get that. We need to embrace it.
Two Simple Solutions
If parents want to end the false self-esteem/entitlement epidemic, the solution is simple:
1. They must get complete with their OWN pasts. Parents need to heal their own wounds, rather than run away from them. They need to stop living through their children and become whole and complete unto themselves. Only by doing this will they stop pampering their children (who really don’t need pampering at all).
2. They must teach their children to be lovers of TRUTH. Parents must encourage their kids to love the truth, even when it stings. The truth is, not everyone can be a major league pitcher, a famous recording artist, or a movie star. Only by letting kids experience the hurt of discovering what they’re NOT good at will they discover what they ARE good at (their true and precious design).
Parents have a crucial choice: they can either avoid discomfort and enable their kids to avoid it, OR they can tackle it with gusto, viewing it as a teacher, a gift, a motivator.
It’s NOT a question of love
Parents today are not inadequate, nor do we lack in love for our kids. We do love our kids and we are doing our very best, given the way we were raised. It’s a matter of results: the results we’re getting are not good. We need to correct our approach. We’re harming our kids by depriving them of experiencing discomfort and truth, life’s greatest teachers.
Pain can be faced with tact, grace and wisdom, in a way that does not insult, devalue or negate anyone. And that’s what we, as parents, must start doing!
Copyright 2007 — Michelle Rigg