Thursday, May 18, 2017

Snowflakes Are not All Perfect, and Children Are not All the Same

A children's art show is being staged in my town this weekend, and I manage the building which is hosting it.  The art has been going up on the walls for several days, and some of it is really wonderful.  Lots of it, actually.

Naively, I imagined that the work would be sold.  I was interested in a few pieces, but no, this is not the case.  I asked why, and was told - I'm paraphrasing - that children who didn't sell anything might feel bad, and the parents would feel obliged to buy their children's work.

 click on the picture to enlarge - some of these drawings are great!

Sorry, but I think this is crap. I suggested that outstanding talent should be rewarded, and was told that all the children were talented.

Looking around the room, it was pretty obvious that some were a good deal more talented than others.  

Living in the San Francisco Bay area, this is an oft-repeated theme.  Classes are "dumbed-down" so that the slowest kids can compete.  Superior ability is choked off so the less gifted students won't feel bad.

4-H advisor helps a boy examine the quality of his sheep’s fleece, ca. October 1921. source
A 4-H boy poses with his calf, ca. 1942. source

  I remembered back to the days of my own childhood - which was far from idyllic, but free of this kind of poisonous thinking.  I remembered the 4-H kids with a lovingly nurtured calf, lamb or piglet.  They strove to make their animal the best, and took them to a stock show to try for the coveted blue ribbon.  The kids who had the right combination of skill, hard work and good luck went home with ribbons.  The others did not.  Mostly, those without ribbons did not feel devastated by this.  They squared their shoulders, thought about next year, or chose a different area of endeavor more suited to their talents.  

It was all about learning to strive, take setbacks in stride and keep striving. 

Showing a calf at a 4-H club fair in central Iowa, ca. 1939. source

4-H boys tend to their cows at the Vermont state fair, ca. 1937
  Not anymore...

Many parents today seem willing to go to ever-greater lengths to protect their kids from the pain of dashed expectations. Consider how many preschools have a policy against inviting only select classmates to a birthday celebration; everyone must be included. At the party, you have to avoid playing musical chairs because someone ends up without a seat, feeling excluded. Lots of sports leagues for younger kids don't even bother to keep score anymore -- to prevent one team from feeling like losers. And all because we don't want our children to feel bad about themselves.

The irony is that disappointments are actually beneficial for kids. Learning to deal with setbacks helps them develop key characteristics they'll need to succeed, such as coping skills, emotional resilience, creative thinking, and the ability to collaborate. "Parents see failure as a source of pain for their child instead of an opportunity for him to say, 'I can deal with this. I'm strong,'" says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.

If you're shaking your head and clinging to the idea that it's your job to make your child feel like a million bucks, you might be interested in what the research shows. A review of 200 studies published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that having high self-esteem didn't cause kids to get better grades or do better in their career. "Success leads to feeling good about yourself, not the other way around," explains Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., a psychologist at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. Even more revealing: An experiment published in the Journal of Social Science and Clinical Psychology found that students who were faring poorly in college did even worse following efforts to boost their self-esteem.


Snowflake Children and Helicopter Parents

One of the concerns we hear raised by teachers and parents alike is that many kids nowadays are just not equipped to deal with everyday issues or problems. They aren’t independent or responsible enough to make decisions, get things done for themselves or even to think on their own.

One of the reasons for this that many parents are raising their kids to become part of the new Snowflake Generation: a term that refers to children or young people who constantly seek to avoid emotionally charged topics, or dissenting ideas and opinions.

Kids from this generation find it hard to work on their own and make individual decisions, even when it comes to everyday task such as packing their school bag (because mum does it). But ‘snowflake kids’ also find it hard to solve problems when they encounter them and often react to everyday issues and problems i.e. nobody to play with, can’t put clothes / shoes on, don’t like food, being hit, want to watch more TV, find homework hard etc., in an ineffective way; they may cry, hit, scream, give up, be discouraged, walk away, throw things around, become aggressive, go silent, or won’t come to you at all.

These may be normal reactions for them but these behaviours do little to find a solution to their problems; in fact they usually just create new ones.

But the reasons for these inappropriate behaviours are:

That the child has not been taught more appropriate ways to problem solve – so they don’t know how to react and respond, they react from habits and what they are used OR because their inappropriate behaviours have been reinforced by parents who have allowed and even encouraged them to ‘throw’ the problem back to them; they then go into ‘solving mode ’ and fix it for them. So the kids don’t have to think or do anything. The issue here is that as soon as the parent is not around to ‘fix’ and ‘solve’ the issues the child melts, collapses and reacts in ineffective and inappropriate ways!

But parents can teach their children how to think of solutions to their problems and how to decide which solutions are the most effective. The first step is to move away from being a Helicopter parent: a helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead, overseeing their child’s life and as soon as the child encounters any form of setbacks they swoop in, scoop them up and protect them from the ‘hurt’ by fixing it for them. This means that the child never gets a chance to learn how to problem solve or do things by him/herself.  The parent never leaves them alone to try for themselves and never lets them get it wrong so they can learn from the experience.

So become an Ambulance Parent: You are not hovering over them, watching them all the time waiting to go to the rescue. But you ARE always on standby, far enough away to give them space to live, but always there in case of emergency. You show that you trust them to think and do every day takes by themselves, but the feel safe to try since they know you are there when needed.

But remember that independence is not something that your children can gain by themselves; it is, in fact, a gift you give your children they will cherish and benefit from their entire lives.


 kid's art photos © Geonni Banner

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