Did you hear about the pro football player who took away his sons’ trophies? Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison’s actions went viral when he tweeted, “I came home to find that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.”
Bada-boom, bada bing!
But, he didn’t end there, but went on to say, “I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they are entitled to something just because they tried their best cause sometimes your best is not enough.”
All of this touched a nerve across the country at a time when kids coast-to-coast are starting a new school year. Some praised Harrison for his actions, others questioned them. I’m somewhere in between. I believe everyone should be applauded for simply working hard but I also think kids today are praised and rewarded too much.
I’m not alone.
A study conducted by The National Academy of Sciences earlier this year found that children who are overly praised and told they are special are more likely to become narcissists. Webster defines narcissist as a person who is overly self-involved and is often vain and selfish. They think they are better than others. We’re raising a generation of self-centered and arrogant narcissists?
So, constantly praising our little ones can result in little monsters? Hash tag not surprised. It shouldn’t come as a shock that overvaluing our kids’ practices and behaviors may in fact raise their levels of narcissism rather than their self-esteem.
Oh, there they are. The dreaded two words: self-esteem. Do we push it or de we allow it to evolve? Does someone with high self-esteem succeed or does someone who succeeds benefit from the resulting self-esteem? It’s more confusing than the proverbial chicken and egg.
If you ask researchers, giving your kids encouragement and “parental warmth” is much more beneficial than praise and telling them they are special.
All parents have the goal of raising self-confident, successful, and self-sufficient children and one way we try to do so is by offering words of praise to acknowledge their accomplishments. This was long believed as a way of fostering confidence and ultimately achievement, but now we’re learning it may not always be the case.
We also hope to raise leaders. But as Jim Rohn said, “All great leaders keep working on themselves until they become effective.” Rohn encourages aspiring leaders to:
Learn to be strong, not rude
Learn to be kind, not weak
Learn to be bold, not a bully
Learn to be humble, not timid
Be proud but not arrogant
And deal with realities and deal in the truth.
Good stuff, right? When’s a good time to start that leader-in-waiting training? Today!
For starters, avoid the tendency to want to make your kids “feel good” and instead encourage them to “do good.” Compliment them but praise their behaviors not just their brains. We want them to “be nice” as much as we want them to “be smart.” Approval is good, but constant approval isn’t and effort should be admired as much as outcome. Think about asking your child “are you proud of yourself?” when they accomplish something rather than immediately saying “I’m so proud of you!” Self-compliments and self-worth are your goals, not self-indulgence.
I’ll never forget watching “CBS Sunday Morning” recently and listened as one of the Rockefeller daughters said, “Everyone, rich or poor, has something bad that happens to them in their childhood but I’ve come to figure out that it’s not net worth that matters, but self-worth.”
In addition to the risk of raising a narcissist, praise happy parents are creating “praise junkies:’” kids who grow up in need of someone else’s acceptance and praise rather than their own. Excessive praise can also keep children from feeling bad; which makes it harder for them to learn how to feel good. It can also lead to them tuning out your constant compliments because they hear them so often. Finally, they may ultimately be unable to recognize their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, we are raising overly competitive and ultimately mean kids. As Dan Zadra says, we focus too much on winning and not enough on living, “The best example you can leave your kids is an example of how to lie a full and meaningful life.”
So what’s the answer? How can we bring up today’s youth in a way that allows them to succeed but still remain humble? I didn’t grow up with a lot of self-esteem so I was bound and determined my daughter would. Still, I didn’t want her cocky. Just confident. So, since day one I enforced the “Believe in Yourself” mantra to Kristen and I’m pretty sure I succeeded in that goal. Sometimes to a fault, but that’s another story.
Be responsible. Be accountable. Also very important. Those two column-writing sisters seem to agree and so do experts, who strongly suggest the presence of clear and consistently-enforced rules and limits. The clearer the rules, they say, the higher the self-esteem. Think about it, if a child has the run of the house, he has nothing to feel proud about or really never has to learn what’s expected of him and meet those expectations. Self-esteem is not the cause of delinquent behavior, it’s the consequence and it is more likely the result of an achievement, not the cause of one.
“My father used to ask my brother and, ‘What did you fail at today?’ He encouraged failure. When a parent gives you permission to do that, you learn to take risks and try new things. Real failure is not trying.”
Sara Blakely, Spanx Found and Owner
When I read that quote in Good Housekeeping magazine I both fell out of my chair and fell in love with it. Using failure as a motivator and validator. What a concept!
In addition to Blakely, many a “failure” has gone on to do great things. It’s believed Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four-years-old and that Beethoven’s music teacher said, “As a composer, he is hopeless.” Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he was stupid and Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was fired for lack of creativity while many other “creatives” are high school drop-outs, including Billy Joel and Daniel Radcliffe.
Failing doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you try harder. Kids with that kind of resilience are the kids we want to raised, not those who feel they are the smartest and the best at anything and everything. If you’re going down the praise crazy path, take a turn and start letting your kids know that there will always be someone smarter, prettier, and richer than them. Someone will always drive a better car and get better grades then them and you as a parent need to realize that other children will do better than yours and be okay with that.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room.”
In the end, self-esteem is strengthened when we overcome a challenge or tackle a difficult situation. Teach your children to tolerate frustration, not avoid it, and to view adversities as challenges to overcome. It is said that adversity reveals and shapes one’s character and that without it; you suffer in ways you wouldn’t even think of.
“You will never be the person you can be if pressure, tension, and discipline are taken out of your life.”
James G. Bilkey
I’ll end with some advice Bill Gates gave to high schoolers. He warned them that today’s feel-good, politically correct teaching has created a generation of kids with no concept of reality, rights without responsibilities, and how this is setting them up for failure in the real world. Here are just a few of the ones I liked best:
- Life is not fair. Get used to it!
- The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
- Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.
Although they probably wouldn’t be the best of friends in high school unless it was the “Breakfast Club,” I’m fairly certain James Harrison would totally agree with Mr. Gates. He may be a rich professional athlete, but it’s interesting to note that he was a Kent State University walk-on who was not drafted professionally. He went on to play football in Europe and was later cut by the Baltimore Ravens before becoming a force with the Steelers. Yeah, I guess you could say he’s earned his trophies and the right to raise his kids to do the same.