Are American Children Too Pampered?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 23 2012 @ 7:26pm

Carlin thinks so, of course:

So does Ed Luce:

I do feel that the swing towards celebrating the child, elevating the child, over-praising the child, boosting constantly at every opportunity the self-esteem of the child, assuming the child is a fragile little eggshell that can be broken at any moment, is something quite un-immigrant and therefore quite un-American, and also a great disservice to the child. I think that tells more about the neediness of their overworked parents' desire for the love of their child than it does for their upbringing skills, which would be to inoculate the children for the world they expect, to show them you can fail, that C grades happen, that reprimands are sometimes deserved. 

Two emails responding to our "On Being A Total Ass" post are worth running here:

David Kuo is absolutely right to disappoint his young son by withholding praise.

Laudatory language where none should exist is one of the worst things that a parent can do for their child. As the younger of two children, born after my brother had been diagnosed as autistic in 1981, I experienced firsthand the after effects of being told I'd done a good job when in fact I'd usually done something mediocre. Now I bear a lifelong burden of trying to break out of this mold. It's awful; the smallest obstacle seems not worth surmounting (unless it comes to love, in which case I try too hard – another story); I rarely attempted to excel because I saw no benefit to doing so. Perhaps if my parents had given me 10 bucks for each "A" on the report card in middle school things would have worked out differently…

Another reader:

What a "ME, ME, ME, Let Me Wallow in my own Wretchedness" article, which is the real problem as I see it, not David's lack of grace. Because what everyone seems to forget in this story is that there were other kids on that field. You don't think one of those kids just might tell Aidan how much he screwed up? And when that happens, Aidan will realize that all the adults in his life have lied to him. Meaning: Gee, should I believe them next time they say I did a great job?

Update from another reader:

Just wanted to share a quick concern re: reading these email responses. There is an essential distinction between lavishing unwarranted praise on a child and encouraging them in spite of not succeeding outright – tact, constructive criticism, however you want to define it. A good parent should be able to encourage while still giving honest feedback. Although I'm still not sure what the problem is with humoring a developing and curious mind at times. Why can't we let a kid win the first time at checkers, and then beat them the next time? It becomes a problem when goals of improvement and drive are overshadowed by that insulation. It's worrisome that so many frame it as a mutually exclusive choice.