Coddling their emotional well-being (Originally Posted 7/15/05)

If we constantly compliment our children for everything they do, how devastating will reality’s slap in the face be when they finally emerge into the real world?  I’ve felt this way for a while, and every time some school system bans the use of red markers for grades because of the "negative connotations" it may have for the fragile minds of the future fast-food flippers among us, it pisses me off just a little bit more.  Schools have stopped having honor roll assemblies, and in some cases honor roll altogether because it makes the other children feel inferior.  Well ya know what?  It could very well be that your kid’s destiny is to serve the honor roll kids their lunch later in life.  It may also be that your kid simply hasn’t found their calling yet, and don’t your kids at least deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Speaking from personal experience, I did poorly in school.  Academic environments in the 70’s and 80’s just weren’t very open to learning on your own, or experimenting, or self discovery.  Back then there was no such thing as "self paced".  They just gave you your Ritalin, and told you to shut up and sit down.  It wasn’t until I was out of the academic environment, and allowed to study whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that learning finally became something I WANTED to do.  What does that have to do with this subject?  Nothing really, apart from illustrating that the occasional red "F" did not scar me for life, and apart from the occasional random emotional outburst and/or crime spree, I think I turned out just fine.

So recently I’ve been attending a lot of my kids’ baseball and softball games, and I’m being reminded all over again of just how many eggshells we seem to have scattered along the path to our own children’s maturity.  The coaches still don’t "officially" keep a score of any kind at the nine-year-old level, and their universal response to "Who won?" is "It was a tie".  Also, they seem to have some insatiable drive to compliment each and every movement the kids on their teams make.  Just yesterday, I watched as a batter unintentially "bunted" the ball.  It fell pretty much square onto home plate, and just sat there while the runner from third ran right over it.  The catcher didn’t even make an attempt to pick it up or anything, although she apparantly thought this lull in the action made for an ideal time to fix the straps on her shin guards.  Now I’m not trying to insult the player, after all, she’s only nine, and this is an "instructional league".  However, the fact that the coaches made a point of telling her "Good try" started my mind turning… she DIDN’T try.  How could her try be good when she hadn’t made one.  If this is an instructional league wouldn’t it be a bit more productive if the coach had taken this opportunity to instruct her that guarding home plate is the catcher’s job?  Also, it is worth noting that the batter, now on first base was complimented on her "Awesome bunt" which, as I mentioned earlier, was purely unintentional.

I’ve seen wild swings at crazy angles and all sorts of poor timings rewarded with a shouted "Good Cut!" from the coach… "Good Cut"???  What the hell is THAT supposed to mean?  I’ve seen batters stand still while the pitcher has thrown a strike complimented with a "Good eye!" from the coach.  WHAT?  NO… WRONG.  A "Good eye" would be allowing a BAD pitch to go past unmolested.  Allowing a strike to go by is not "Good eye", it’s precisely the opposite, it’s a "Bad eye".

Now I’m not suggesting that we should yell at, insult, or otherwise degrade small children playing sports, but if we compliment every misstep and mistake, how are they supposed to take us seriously when we say "Good hit" and actually mean it?  I personally don’t think there’s any shame in saying "Good try".  These kids are doing the best they can, and they really are trying.  Go ahead and compliment them for their effort, encourage them to keep trying, but don’t mislead them into thinking that they’ve achieved some goal when they missed it by a mile.  You are NOT doing the kids any favors, or equipping them for life in the real world here.

And if you think that nine-year-olds don’t see through our artificiality, know that I wasn’t even going to mention this except that on the drive home from the game, my nine year olds pointed it out to ME.  Yes, that’s right, the very nine-year-olds we’re so afraid of offending are already old enough to see through our crap.  As a society, we may think we’re "fostering their emotional well-being", but in reality we’re just teaching them to be cynical and jaded at a much earlier age than the generation before them.

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