Friday, October 17, 2008

Significance through achievement

When my children were younger I would occasionally visit their classrooms to read or do a demonstration and as I read or talked I would ask questions. There were always kids that would quickly answer my questions. Unfortunately, most of the quick answers were just plain nonsense. Apparently these kids had never been told, “No, that answer doesn’t make sense. Next time give some thought before you answer.” I am sure the response they had become accustomed to was something like, “Well, Little Johnny, that is a good answer but does anyone else have a different answer.”  Apparently when these kids with inflated self-esteem get to college they continue to answer with nonsense.  Joseph Epstein has this to say about overconfident kids:

"So often in my literature classes students told me what they "felt" about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one's feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to--but did not--write: "D-, Too much love in the home." I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant."

So true, kids today expect the fruits of achievement without the hard work that leads to achievement. We parents are contributing to this mindset by giving praise to every little “accomplishment” and, as a result, our kids think everything they do is a true accomplishment. But kids eventually get wise to their parents and recognize that the praise isn’t genuine and rightly ignore it. Unfortunately, these kids become jaded to praise and even when genuine praise is given for real achievements they discount that.

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