The central message of the speech was that regardless of what you have been told and led to believe, you are not special.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have…
…But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.
Can I confess to you that as I was reading this I was pumping my fist in the air and cheering? Because I totally was. My colleagues and I joked about slipping the transcript of the speech into our students’ report cards. Because I feel like this is a message that is so important, even to 5 and 6 year-olds, and more importantly, to their parents.
I just completed my tenth year of teaching. And in that decade, I’ve literally taught hundreds of students and interacted with hundreds of parents. That doesn’t make me an expert by any means, but it does give me a glimpse into the culture of parenting as it has shifted and changed even over the last ten years.
If I’m going to take a cue from David McCullough, Jr. and be blunt, I’ll say this: generally speaking, with every year, I’ve noticed that kids are becoming brattier and feeling more entitled (oh, the stories I could tell…) because parents, generally speaking, have come to coddle them more and more. And present company (I’m talking about me!) is definitely *not* excluded.
It’s almost as if the first of the “everybody gets a trophy” generation is now raising kids and the philosophy has changed to “yes, everybody gets a trophy, but my child gets the biggest trophy!” Of course, I’m exaggerating quite a bit and this is a gross generalization, but it’s been really interesting to see the reactions I have gotten from parents when approaching them about different subjects regarding their children.
When I was little, if I *ever* came home with a note from the teacher that suggested even a hint at not being perfectly well behaved, or heaven forbid, had a teacher ever called my parents at work, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have been in deeeeeep doodoo. And it was pretty much the same for all of my friends and their parents.
Nowadays, it’s almost as though any time a child is told he is less than perfect, his parents come rushing up ready to share any number of excuses to point fingers at anyone or anywhere else but back at their child. Again, I’m exaggerating, and I’m not saying that a teacher’s word (or anyone else’s, for that matter) regarding your child should be the end all be all. But it just seems that much more so than when we were kids, a child’s behavior or attitude is excused away or given into, no matter how bad it is. On top of that, it seems that children are also rewarded more than ever. Not only do we reward them for improving, or for effort, but we reward them just for showing up! Or for being nice! Or, even worse, we bribe them with rewards to do basic tasks! (Seriously, the stories I could share…) And, not to mention all of the goodness modern inventions and technology bring us in helping cater to our children’s interests, almost to the point of making everything! fun! all! the! time! for our little ones.
As I said, our little rodeo of a family is hardly excluded from this kind of parenting. I’d like to say we are able to take a more objective point of view, but the truth is, if an incident arises between Choi Boy and another child or if he does something less than desirable all on his own, I certainly make him apologize, but inwardly, I’m often rationalizing his actions or thinking of excuses as to why he did what he did. And though we try reeeeeally hard not to give extrinsic rewards and instead try to play up intrinsic rewards, if I’m totally honest, we’ve certainly fallen into our share of bribes here and there. (Not our proudest parenting moments. Nope.) And, gosh darn it, I love a good project or activity that I can center around CB!
At the end of the day, in so many ways, our children are the centers of our universe. They are, in addition to our SOs, the most precious and important people in our lives.
But I can’t help but think that making excuses for them or rewarding them for little things or making them feel as though they are the center of the universe is creating the culture of “special-ness” that McCullough warns against. In fact, one of my biggest worries in raising CB is that he will grow up thinking he is THE MAN (The grandparents are not helping play this down. For reals, yo.) and that he may be perceived by others as a brat.
We try really hard to balance the love and affection we shower CB with along with consistent discipline so he learns to be respectful and understand that he cannot and will not always get what he wants, and that the world will not make exceptions for him . We also want him to know that he will not always be the best and that it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from that failure. We want him to not always be looking out for number 1, but to be caring and kind and willing and wanting to serve others. But we also want him to be confident and have a healthy dose of self-esteem and live up to his potential, whatever it may be.
In short, we want CB to know and do exactly what McCullough encourages at the end of his speech:
Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion-and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.
Ain’t that the truth? So, I guess my question is what does raising a child to do and understanding that truth look like in practicality? How does one raise a child to be selfless and compassionate while also helping him feel loved and, well, special? How do you balance developing a healthy self-esteem without over inflating your child and giving him a sense of entitlement?
How do you help your child understand that he is not special, when in your eyes, in so many ways, he really is?