Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Please, give up your dreams."

The other day I alluded to a forthcoming essay that would serve as context for this post. Well, it has now forthcome, in today's New York Daily News, under the revised title for this post, above. And as I re-read the piece with a fresh eye, it's one of my favorite riffs on a topic I've visited a number of times.

By the way, I must thank News opinion-page editor Josh Greenman for his deft editing and his oversight of the total presentation, which is marvelous. I couldn't have hand-picked better art or written better captions. Gotta love the "This can't happen to you" under the shot of Jeter!

Again, I encourage you to check out the linked posts and articles below as well.

We spend way too much time trying to childproof life for our kids. Instead of (a) teaching them that life will have hurdles and (b) helping them develop the mettle to overcome those hurdles, we helicopter over them and instead try, as parents, to remove all the hurdles. We try to ease their path in every possible way. Not only is this a tremendous source of anxiety for us, say the shrinks, but as Sir Charles might put it, it's a turrible thing to do to our kids. 

Children raised in such an environment grow up thinking that life is a breeze, that they can (and should) be happy all the time...that it's Life's job to make it so. In any case, they do not develop the coping mechanisms that they will one day need to tackle Real Life, which inevitably is going to contain its share of failure, loss and heartbreak. Such is the ironic fallout of one of the core pop-psychology initiatives of the past half-century, the self-esteem movement that began formally in American schools and then metastasized informally pretty much everywhere else. (See under "law of unintended consequences.")

We do our kids no favors by endlessly chanting, "You can do anything you want in life!", "Don't ever give up your dreams!", "You can even be president if you like!", "No mountain is too steep, no challenge too difficult!", blah blah. I've addressed this point ad nauseam in my book, in other blog posts, in numerous pieces for this or that or the other or still another publication, and in practically all of my several hundred appearances on radio and TV, so I won't belabor the point here. The bottom line is that the best thing you as a parent can do for your child is to let your little Jordans or Tatums* experience garden-variety adversity and equip them with the COPING SKILLS to handle same. They must build up antibodies against defeat, as it were, so that in the future, even if they're not quite immune, at least they're less likely to catch a full-blown, fulminating, fatal case of it. 

Make your kids understand that the world isn't necessarily their oyster, that life is tough and competitive and often unforgiving, that there is no beneficent universe out there that exists to pointedly serve their needs. (Yes, you must also equip them with resiliency and the determination to keep trying as long as it is reasonable to do so; it's a balancing act. Hey, no one said parenting is easy.) Help the kids develop a thicker skin and a philosophical way of accepting defeat (while also instilling the notion that defeat may just be temporary).

Otherwise, two things:

1. They will come of age with a way-inflated sense of their own place in the solar system.
2. They will crumble in the face of Real Life as soon as they're removed from your perky little bubble of influence.

In which case their fallback coping skills may consist of copious amounts of booze or weed or sex or worse, and/or an abiding bitterness or anger or self-loathing, and/or, sometimes, not often, but just maybe, an assault rifle.

* I picked popular unisex names, so feel free to picture little Jordan or Tatum as your son or daughter

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