Are We Raising Our Children To Be Narcissitic Wimps?

Expanding on some of the ideas previously discussed in The Cultural Consequences of Offering Endless Quantities of Meaningless Praise, the latest piece (available for a fee) from Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal is entitled Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled:

…Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were “special” just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.
Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted for re-evaluation. And he’s not the only one. As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they’re special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children’s lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?
Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now being challenged:
“You’re special.”
…Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can’t be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, “he’s representative of a culture of excessive doting.”
…Prof. Chance…wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: “The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”
“They’re just children.”
When kids are rude, self-absorbed or disrespectful, some parents allow or endure it by saying, “Well, they’re just children.” The phrase is a worthy one when it’s applied to a teachable moment, such as telling kids not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets. But as an excuse or as justification for unacceptable behavior, “They’re just children” is just misguided.
“Call me Cindy.”
Is it appropriate to place kids on the same level as adults, with all of us calling each other by our first names? On one hand, the familiarity can mark a loving closeness between child and adult. But on the other hand, when a child calls an adult Mr. or Ms., it helps him recognize that status is earned by age and experience. It’s also a reminder to respect your elders.
“Tell me about your day.”
It is crucial to talk to kids about their lives, and that dialogue can enrich the whole family. However, parents also need to discuss their own lives and experiences, says Alvin Rosenfeld, a Manhattan-based child psychiatrist who studies family interactions.
…many parents focus their conversations on their kids. Today’s parents “are the best-educated generation ever,” says Dr. Rosenfeld. “So why do our kids see us primarily discussing kids’ schedules and activities?”
He encourages parents to talk about their passions and interests; about politics, business, world events. “Because everything is child-centered today, we’re depriving children of adults,” he says. “If they never see us as adults being adults, how will they deal with important matters when it is their world?”

What I find so striking is how some people are simply unwilling to discuss the practical implications of certain widespread parenting practices. Since human behavior is heavily influenced by the incentives explicitly or implicitly present in our respective social environments, we are either going to debate the appropriateness of the underlying behavioral incentives created by current parenting practices or be damned to live with their long-term consequences.
Other posts related to how we are raising children in America include:
Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children
Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II
Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future

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16 years ago

I can agree with the general thrust of the argument but, in this discussion, let us not forget the role of contemporary commerical culture in producing an ethos of instant gratification, ultra-comfort, and “the best of everything for me”.
This is promoted not so much by PBS or bad parenting but by major corporations. who tell us over and over that “you deserve the best”, “nothing is too good for your family”, etc.
It’s not exactly the same phenomenon that the article discusses, but it’s very related.

16 years ago

Don’t go blaming Mr. Rogers. He was right. Everyone is special. We’re all human beings who have the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, help others on this earth and have souls. If you’re Christian, Muslim, etc. you believe that humans were made in God’s image. That makes us special.
What special does not mean–
that you’re assured of being the best athlete on the field; that you won’t experience adversity in life; that you deserve an “A” on every test; that adults should not discipline children at all because minor discipline might temporarily “hurt” a child’s self-esteem.

16 years ago

Look at the massacre at VaTech. One perp of slight build and with 2 semi-auto handguns killed dozens and later killed himself. This perp could have been stopped had a group of students/faculty got together to rush him. It was obvious from the shot sequence he didn’t have an automatic rifle. Never forget the example of that holocaust survivor, a professor and who used his own body to block the door so our brave young people could jump out the windows. Nobody went to assist this 70 year old in jamming the door thus preventing that murderous creep from entering that room and killing many more. Our society is very femanized and our youth very wimpish and spoiled. Just look at the examples at VaTech. Forty five or fifty years ago he never would have kiiled even half the number he did. He would have been stopped. Back when men were men.

16 years ago

I hate to find myself agreeing with Tim’s point, but if you look at the gunman who was tackled at the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas, you’ll find that he was taken down by a couple of off-duty cops and soldiers on leave. The “average” bystander didn’t do much.
Tim, maybe the biggest difference is that 40 or 50 years ago, the vast majority of VA Tech student would have had military experience.
Terrorism will eventually reach the US once again. I wonder how Americans will adjust.

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