In my work with students and families over the years, I have noticed a growing trend among parents: they expect their children to be extraordinary. A clear majority of them expect this, so the math can’t possibly work.
This phenomenon takes so many forms. More frequently than you’d think, parents worry that their child’s teacher or the school’s curriculum will not stimulate their “gifted” child. And I’ve also known parents who are desperate to cultivate extraordinary musical, athletic, or academic skills by scheduling their children during almost every waking moment of the day to ensure they will perform above average in some area. Any area.
When I was a sixth grade teacher, working at an independent school in Los Angeles, our evaluations consisted of a narrative coupled with a checklist of skills, such as cooperation, class participation, and homework completion. The categories for each skill were as follows: Excellent, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory. In my view, “Satisfactory” meant that a student was meeting my expectations – something I viewed as quite positive. “Excellent” was reserved for the rare occasion in which a student really stretched beyond the norm and truly excelled. Not surprisingly, I experienced more and more parents calling and asking to meet to discuss their child’s “Satisfactory” marks, as if this were a problem – usually my problem. One mother, in tears as we sat in the principal’s office, asked with complete sincerity, “How can you view my daughter as satisfactory?”
A recent study at The Ohio State University suggests that kids who are told that they are superior to others have a greater tendency toward narcissism. “People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others,” an author of the study says.
Isn’t it an honorable thing to be worthy of being a part of the tribe? Or a part of the family? Does everyone have to be above the rest of us?
There is no need to fear that not telling them that they are a little Albert Einstein, LeBron James, or Maria Callas will damage them. The kids in that study who were the happiest and most grounded were under the impression that they were as good as anyone else. Those kids were also given lots of love and warmth – I believe we should dole that out generously.
As a parent, I understand the natural tendency for us to view our children as “special.” It comes from the love and awe our children bring to us. However, it might behoove our children, and society as a whole, if we embrace the concept that allchildren are of value, and that we can better appreciate and value their “as-good-as-ness,” there “commensurateness,” their wonderful “ordinariness,” and the little things that might not reveal extraordinary skill or talent, but nevertheless embody their intrinsic value as a human being and someone we cherish.