parents

"My child is not extraordinary. And that's okay."

Excellent advice.

As winter approaches, schools all around Australia are preparing for their athletics carnivals.

Cardboard boxes of place ribbons are arriving at schools.

But there aren’t just ribbons for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. places.

There are also ribbons bearing messages like “I’m a winner because I finished.” The ones that are given to everyone whether the cross the line first, last or right in the middle.

“Why?” Because we want all kids to feel like they are fabulous regardless of whether they can run fast or jump high.  We tell our kids they are awesome and amazing and deserving of prizes just for being there.

But is our desire to make sure all kids feel like a winner actually weakening them?

Is the “You are awesome” message turning them into narcissists who can’t cope in the real world when they leave the protective bubble of childhood.  Does this leave them prone to depression and less likely to be able to develop happy relationships?

“Absolutely yes”, according to a leading researcher on narcissism and youth mental health.

Professor Jean Tinge, author of several books including The Narcissism Epidemic and Generation Me was in Sydney recently as part of the “Happiness and its Causes Conference”.

Jean has spent many years studying “Generation Me” as she calls them and her research shows that while Generation Me feel more entitled and have much higher self esteem than the generations before them, it is not making them happier.

In fact it is making them more miserable.

It seems that kids who have spent their whole lives being told they are special and fabulous are having a very tough time when they get out into the real world and discover that maybe they are not.

Here’s how she explains it.

“We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism and loneliness. More than any other generation in history, these  children are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood.”

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“Generation Me feel more entitled and have much higher self esteem than the generations before them, it is not making them happier.”

And even more interesting is that there is a strong argument that maybe even the kids don’t want this approach.

Roy Baumeister (another speaker at the conference) suggests that some of the most hugely popular video games offer the exact opposite of  the “you’re awesome” message. Many of these games require players to fail over and over again. Players must endure thousands of virtual deaths to succeed at these games and yet somehow they retain enough self-esteem to keep trying.

“While parents and educators have been promoting the “everybody-gets-a-trophy” philosophy, children have been seeking games with more demanding standards. Players need to fight off Ork after Ork; they need patience to mine for virtual gold; they need thriftiness to save up for a new sword or helmet.  They don’t get credits for just being there, credits only come with work and success.”

Both Jean and Roy believe that maybe we could be taking lessons from the techniques these game use.

Maybe instead of the ‘You are awesome” message, we could try setting clear and attainable goals and then offering encouragement.  We can also help them understand that there are prizes in real life and that if they don’t always win those prizes they need to keep trying, or even try something different.

We all want our kids to enter adulthood full of confidence and able to make their way in the world.  But maybe the best way to do that is to ditch the participation ribbons and help them realise that being extraordinary is not a birthright, but something earned by hard work and determination.

You can see the full interview here:

Kathy Wilson is the creator of Mydiamonddays.com, a website that makes meditation as easy as choosing your favourite flavour of icecream.

She attended the Happiness and its Causes Conference to discover what scientists can teach us about creating a life well lived.

Do you think we’re doing the wrong thing by kids in telling them they’re all winners?

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