Sunday, December 12, 2004

'A Nation of Wimps'

I attended a graduation recently at a private school. Overall, it was a great graduation. But one event in the program was absolutely bizarre: Every student in the school got an award trophy! These awards were given out for such things as excellence in sport or a study area; but also for things like being helpful and being a good friend. But it seems to me that giving every single student an award completely undermines the meaning of an award. There are people who stand out as excellent in some sphere of activity and should be awarded in recognition of their achievements. But what value are those awards if we feel the need to give everyone an award? What's behind this? As far as I can tell it has something to do with the belief that we need to bolster the self-esteem of children by rewarding them for everything and anything positive they might do. Or, maybe, if a child sees someone getting an award and they don't that, somehow, it might damage their self-esteem. It so happens I came across this disturbing article in Psychology Today magazine called A Nation of Wimps which describes the way in which 'parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children'. The author warns, however, that 'parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they're breaking down in record numbers.' This article is must reading for all parents. Imagine one of these children at the graduation who, all through their schooling, has always received an award for even the most trivial good behaviour. Then they move out into the 'real world' and, say, become a movie actor. Imagine that, at the next AFI awards, they are not nominated as best actor. How will they feel? Given the accumulating evidence, it would not be surprising if this person developed a major depression or even became suicidal. I started thinking about the way in which Christian youth are often 'protected' from negative experiences from which they may learn. It is very rare, for example, to hear youth, in the church, express doubts or struggles about their faith. And how many times have you heard a testimony that is about God not answering prayer or a person not being healed? Surely telling only 'positive' stories of faith sets up an expectation in the listeners that, if they only have enough faith - only pray enough - that they can be healed or reassured or comforted without experiencing the distress and pain of not having a prayer answered the way we might expect. Too often we try to protect our children and youth from the messy questions - the difficult experiences - the grey areas of life. We try to answer all their questions for them instead of allowing them to find their own answers. Marano, the author of the article I have referred to, cites Portman who warns that
Parents need to abandon the idea of perfection and give up some of the invasive control they've maintained over their children. The goal of parenting ... is to raise an independent human being.
Surely that, too, is the aim of Christian education in home, church, and school. It reminds me of the phrase in Hebrews (5:13, NLT): 'a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life'.

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