Affirmation addicts

Constant esteem boosting by parents and teachers has created affirmation addicts, warns a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story.  Adults who were overpraised in childhood can’t cope with a world that finds them not very special after all.

“It’s had serious repercussions,” (Minnetonka pediatrician Ernie) Swihart said. “These young adults who were raised in the ’80s, now in their 20s and in the workplace — those who received praise, rewards and prizes for everything they did without working very hard — often are very entitled and self-absorbed.

Steven McManus, a family therapist in Golden Valley,  sees young adults who have problems resolving conflicts, handling disappointment or  “tolerating any negative emotions at all.” It’s all good — or else.

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, complains that education schools are sending out student teachers who can only say,  “Good job, good job, good job.”

About Joanne


  1. No surprise at all…

  2. This hurts my feelings. 😉

    I’m in my last year of college before I student teach and I can tell you that I see this even in fellow college students and fellow pre-service teachers. It’s rather disgusting to see a student go crying to a professor because they got a “B” or a “C” and they’re accustomed to “A”s. These are the folks that I don’t want as fellow teachers. I returning to college after 20 years in the military, so rejection, failure, and negative comments are par for the course. Students need to see failure as not something bad, but as a learning experience; something that can be used in the discovery process. All the great inventors were very comfortable with failure – and had to be.

  3. I am very honest with my students. If they do not meet my expectations, I let them know. When they complain about their grades, I print out their grade, show them my gradebook, and explain that I cannot grade them on their niceness, participation, or whether or not I like them. Their grade is a reflection on their work product. Some parents do not like the fact that I’m so honest with their students.

  4. They’re told “good job!” and “nice work!” but never “good try, but you can do better.” They never hear “I believe in you. Let me help you figure out what went wrong, so you can fix it.” And they seldom hear “I’m proud of you.”

    That last one means more to most of my students than all of the non-specific kudos for things they know they flubbed.

  5. I’ve ranted about this before–they want to be praised for breathing, and for breathing in a super-speshul, kr8tive way. Aagh.

  6. @ms_teacher

    How do you deal with said parents? Do your administrators support your realism? I’m currently a teacher candidate and have watched classmates genuinely try to get one of my professors fired because they didn’t like how much work she was giving us. This is one of those realities of teaching I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around on this side of the classroom.

  7. What a lousy post, Joanne.

  8. Lisa Brown says:

    Well, just in case you need it Joanne: I think you are doing a good job! Good job, good job, good job!

  9. Where’s the basis for this assertion? A therapist in Golden Valley?

    I’m no fan of affirmation, but come on. This is an entirely invented story.

  10. I was a good student. I received lots of positive feedback on what I did. One of the toughest things I’ve had to adjust to as an adult is that “no feedback” probably means you’re doing an OK job; most of the time you only hear about what you’ve done if you messed up.

    It takes a little experience to adjust to telling yourself “I know this work is good, and that’s enough.” (Though sometimes it would be nice to hear an atta-girl once in a while.)

  11. Robert Wright says:

    Emily, let me tell you. You will never have a mother disagree with you if you say something nice about her child. It doesn’t matter how far from reality you stray. If you want to get tenure, learn to lie. Every D or F if you give threatens your job security. Nobody ever gets fired for giving A’s.

    Emily, whenever you get a chance to express your opinion about your student, your colleagues, the administration, the curriculum, the textbook, the school’s basketball team, the landscaping, all you have to do is use the word “awesome.” Use that word repeatedly, ad nauseam, no, post nauseam. Walk, talk, teach and smile as if you were a Karen Carpenter music video.

    We are supposed to be teachers and students are supposed to learn. If we aren’t doing our jobs, the student won’t learn. But teachers are never fired for low test scores. The bottom line is this. We are not held accountable for results. Only for appearances. So, Emily, smile.

  12. Robert Wright says:

    I really dislike going to honor roll assemblies which go on forever because 80% of the students are awarded certificates.

    It would be a more efficient use of time if we just gave out certificates to the 20% who weren’t on the honor roll.