Better not to harp on being special
Even goods that are not on a luxury level target the belief that “my child is special.” With the low birth rate, most families have one or two children, making the babies especially precious. Parents want to spare other expenses to make sure their children get to enjoy the best they can afford.
The trend is not limited to marketing. When parents look at their children, they always assure them that they are special. They seem to believe that positive reinforcement is the best approach to parenting. As the saying goes, compliments can make whales dance, right?
Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor who studies the adverse impact of compliments, says not all praise is bad. But telling a child they’re smart, talented and brilliant can be problematic.
By commenting on innate gifts children are born with, parents might make their children feel pressured by expectations and the children might feel frustrated when they cannot meet them.
Also, when kids are praised for intelligence or other gifts, they can think that competency is predetermined and may not be prepared to overcome hardships. It is like repeating the mantra, “You are special.” In contrast, it helps to praise efforts. Then children will believe that they become better by striving for something and studies have shown that their abilities actually improve.
A bigger problem with the widely used “special” parenting ideology is that it makes children disrespect the lives of those less-than-special. Most people, including parents, live ordinary lives, and they themselves are probably ordinary.
I have “threatened” my child that if he didn’t study hard, the best job he would be able to find would be as a grocery cashier. Every day, I told him that he was special, talented and smart, and I believe he will be successful someday.
In a way, life as a parent may be about accepting the ordinariness of their child whom they hoped to be special. But rather than thinking everyone is special and extraordinary, the world would be a far better place if people, both special and ordinary, didn’t consider ordinariness to be unworthy. Then every one of us can live a special life in a special world.
*The author is a culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sung-hee