About This ArticleThis is a sample from dozens of questions submitted by our newsletter subscribers that we've answered. In each issue we entertain one question from subscribers and answer it to the best of our ability. This is in addition to the Webmaster's Q & A column.
The questions, as the title of the column implies, can be about anything. Most subscribers use it as an opportunity to ask personal questions or questions about life in general, although other kinds of questions have found their way into this column as well.
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Ask Anything Q & A SampleQuestion: We recently ate dinner with a couple we had met at a fundraiser. The dinner was uneventful, but what really struck me was how they lavished praise on their children for trivial things like putting their shoes in the closet. Our host explained that she was building their self-esteem. In our house, picking up after yourself is expected. We might say thank you for such a small chore done, but praise is reserved for when our children do something that's actually praiseworthy, like doing a voluntary kindness for someone else or getting a high grade at school. Am I missing something?
- Submitted by Andrea C.
Answer: I don't think you're missing anything, in fact, I think it's your new friends that may be slightly amiss. This reply may upset a few of you, if so, sorry about that, but it is about what I think, not a judgment of you personally. Having said that...
It is possible the child has behaviorial problems that were not obvious to you, and extraordinary praise is somehow helpful. If so, that's that, I guess.
However, I suspect your new friends have bought into a political correctness fantasy. In the context of your question, political correctness is an emotional idealism based on the false premise that words equal substance. One of the tenets of this belief is that confidence and self-esteem doesn't have to be earned, or even honest for that matter.
To their way of thinking, praising a child for any little thing at all builds confidence and self-esteem. They don't understand that when you praise a child for things that are an expected behavioral norm, that praise has little value and meaning. It also devalues honest achievement to the level of non-achievement, similar to how people place less value on products they get for free as opposed to purchasing the same products.
False praise is an intellectual lie and an emotional displacement that disgorges the child's incentive to improve. Why would a kid try harder when parents and teachers are already indiscriminantly regurgitating praise on the child for low achievement?
Real confidence must be earned through effort and achievement, it can't be built through empty platitudes, and that's true for adults as well. If I lavished you with praise because you put your shoes on the right feet, would that praise mean anything to you? Other than you probably becoming suspicious of my motives and sincerity, it's doubtful. Kids aren't stupid, they quickly learn to see through meaningless praise too. Adopting the politically correct attitude of praising a child for any trivial thing is nothing more than intellectual laziness and self-delusion dressed up in the desire to appear enlightened.
Why is false praise intellectual laziness?
Because children are absolutely wonderful. You can find real reasons to praise a child to build his or her geniune self-esteem and confidence if you try. They deserve at least that much. They don't deserve to be lied to, so find the real things to praise instead of the easy things to lie about.
What is your child trying hard to do? Praise that! If he or she is trying hard but not yet getting it, whatever it is, praise the effort—that's believeable and praiseworthy, and encourages the child to keep trying because you approve of their effort. Is he or she getting better in a class, or sport, or hobby, or behavior, praise that too! Reminding them of how they've improved over time at something is real, and because progress is often hard to see because it comes in small increments, it can help them to understand how practice and perseverence leads to the reward of improvement.
There are hundreds of real things to praise a child about, but to lavish unmerited praise on your child will only confuse him or her. False praise lands softly but grows heavy and burdensome, because in the end, a child cannot live up to the undefined and shifting parameters of worth that false praise creates. Simply put, false praise creates false self-esteem. Don't do that to an innocent child when it's just as easy to be real with them.
To praise without merit is to risk raising a child that will develop a delicate ego who will have a harder time dealing with the real world as an adult. Relationships may be more difficult, careers may be more difficult, even happiness may well become more difficult for the person deluded from childhood with a false sense of personal relevance and worth. Such individuals can't get enough praise, and often fish for compliments as a way of life. Most of us have known someone that feels the need to extract compliments from every conversation, and know how wearisome and even annoying that can become.
The politically correct also want scorekeeping removed from sports so there are no losers. After all, losing might hurt a child's feelings.
Yeah, maybe, but so what!
Life is full of disappointments. You can't shelter a child from life's disappointments and the sooner they learn that in the natural order of daily living the better. It helps to develop their awareness of the disappointments other people encounter, thereby teaching them empathy. It helps them to understand that actions have consequences. It allows them to learn their strengths and weaknesses so they can find what they really are good at and love to do, rather than giving them a false sense of their abilities and talents. When you give a child the truth instead of easy feel-goodisms you teach life instead of lies. They'll be better adults for your efforts.
Learning to deal with disappointments as a child helps them to better cope with life's ups and downs as an adult. It's better to learn how to handle disappoinments on the relatively small and unimportant things of childhood than the deeper, more devastating disappointments of adulthood. Just as you build muscle mass by lifting weights each day, you learn to handle life's greatest trials and tribulations by experiencing and overcomimg smaller disappointments in childhood.
Instead of letting a child build strength of character through overcoming small disappointments when they're young, the child that is raised in the overly protective, false reality of political correctness gets hurt more easily and more deeply as an adult. The recovery time is longer and more difficult. What the politically correct thinker believes is helping the child is handicapping the adult. I wouldn't call that a good trade-off.
In other political correctness efforts to protect the child's psyche, some schools have gone to a pass/fail grading system, depriving achievement-minded students of deserved recognition for their superior efforts. They dumb down the hard-working student so no one feels bad, and yet, does that really help the student that struggles? For the struggling child, this same grading system doesn't give them an accurate view of what their strengths and weaknesses are. The pass/fail system of grading takes the incentive away from both the achiever and the underachiever because just getting by is good enough and is the only systematic recognition either receives.
Politically correct minded parents try to avoid saying no or don't to their children. They fear that those kind of restrictions might damage the natural growth of their little ones. It's appalling how ignorant and selfish that attitude is, and yes, it is selfish. That kind of parenting is nothing more than abdicating your true responsibilities as a parent by taking the path of least resistance. Those who do will one day regret taking the easy way out.
In the politically correct world, feelings take precedence over discipline and common sense. A soft-sell "buddyism" is being peddled as an allurement to cooperate in place of punishment as a disincentive for bad behavior. Many children in recent decades have been cheated out of having behavioral parameters to live within, and that shows up in many areas of life from crime rates and antisocial behavioral problems to the number of people on legal and illegal drugs, reckless and dangerous behavior, and suicides or attempted suicides.
When you combine hollow praise, a lack of constructive criticism, a lack of rules, discipline and punishment, and a my-child-can-do-no-wrong, gosh-darn-it-I'm-your-best-friend attitude, you're just asking for trouble. Big, big trouble.
These children often grow up spoiled, underachieving, disrespectful, rebellious, and selfish. They expect life to give them everything they want without paying the price of effort. They've been taught whatever they do is good enough, so they do whatever they want regardless of whom it may hurt. I used the term "grow up," but the truth is, many of the adult children raised in a politically correct environment aren't even close to being grown up other than in size and age.
The adult-child raised in the politically correct household often expects to move from the classroom into the real world and workplace and have praise and rewards handed to them for very little effort. Why wouldn't they expect that? That's how they were conditioned to expect life, as unrealistic as that is, but they end up bitterly disappointed when they learn otherwise. They may go for years angry at the world because of the deep disappointment they feel, or they often become hypersenstive whiners that require others to walk on eggshells around them to avoid provoking childish fits.
The PC movement is really about power. These folks want to tell you how to live, how to think, and how to act. They consider themselves smarter than the rest of us and believe that we should recognize and acknowledge their self-perceived superiority, and they believe we should cowtow to them—and many of them get very angry and upset when you follow your own reasoning if it differs from theirs. When you think about it, it's a very cult-like mindset. Political correctness is, in many ways, a destructive cult movement.
Political correctness has spawned a devolved subset of society filled with crybabies, outcasts, outlaws, whiners, and professional victims. Too many people no longer take responsibility for their behavior. It's much easier to let someone else or the government bail them out. They'll tell you they're not getting what they deserve, but they don't do anything worthwhile to deserve what they want. They think they deserve what they want because they exist. In a cosmic sense, that may be true, but that's not the way life on this planet works. And for all their whining and self-importance and self-perceived superiority, they are getting exactly what they deserve—it just isn't what they want.
Parents can become their kids' buddies when the kids are grown up, until then, we need parents to be parents, not sidekicks! The best friend you can be to your child is to give them honest praise and constructive criticism, and to set rules and then enforce them. Your children will be thankful for that real love when they're old enough to understand it. If you don't train them to be adults while they're young, you'll be waiting for them to grow up when they're old.
You may die waiting.
False praise is nothing but mental posturing that has few, if any, redeeming qualities. False praise is a poor substitute for honest praise based on merit . . . and please remember, if you're not lazy-minded you can always find something genuine to praise your children for. False praise washes off at the end of the day, earned praise sinks into the bones and stays with a child a lifetime. Please, please, please—love your children enough to give them that much.
When you have given a child praise they have earned, it blesses them with a measure of real confidence through their achievement or effort. It's like plugging them into a confidence booster that enthuses and excites them to strive for more. On the other hand, unmerited praise leaves them wondering what the big deal is because, even a child learns to tell when they're being fed a stagnant slough of lies.
I'm all for building our childrens' confidence and self-esteem, just do it the right way. When you take the time and effort to be genuine in your praise, that praise is genuine to them, and true confidence and self-esteem are built on that solid foundation. If your children aren't worth that much to you, I feel sorry for the both of you.
Please, love your children enough to be real with them.