In a very funny New York Observer piece, Alexandra Wolfe argues that upper-middle-class American kids suffer from Too Much Positive Reinforcement. Mommy and Daddy lavish children with unearned praise, leaving young people out of touch with reality. You’re not special, after all.
After decades of upper-middle-class parenting designed to shield Junior from all possible failure, and from any honest judgement of his talents, it’s no wonder we need television shows like American Idol and its fellow showcase for TMPR victims, The Apprentice. These shows are delivering the spanking — sorry, the time-out — that our culture of bloated self-evaluation is subconsciously craving. Their success signals that we may be reaching the end of a long national delusion. There is simply not room enough at the top these days for everyone raised to believe they belong there — and, deep down, we all know it.
. . . We’ve become so inured to the idea that a person’s self-assessment need not be changed by a little thing like repeated and utter failure that no one was the least surprised when Joe Lieberman took so long to throw in the towel. Before New Hampshire, he said, “The people of New Hampshire put me in the ring, and that’s where we’re going to stay.” Jon Stewart on The Daily Show put it best: “When did our elections become the Special Olympics? You’re not all winners. Not everybody gets a hug. You guys got crushed.”
Wolfe focuses on wealthy Manhattanites — the parents who spend $5,000 to get their kid into a $26,000-a-year private school — but the problem of overly entitled children is much broader. Look at all the students who complain they have to pass a test of ninth grade reading and math skills to fulfill their college dreams.
Some day I’ll write a book titled Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned from Mick Jagger. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.
Update: Students learn more from teachers who are tough graders than from easy graders, says an Education Next article on “The Gentleman’s A.”