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The abnormality of normalcy

You have to admit that it is a bit ridiculous how much we praise our children. Now Im not being critical about bragging up your kids athleticism at cocktail parties, chatting up their academic acumen at the supermarket or even hyping third-grade ballet to the neighbors while they show off the 12-carat participation rings they had made for their sons seventh-grade football team that just finished third in the western regionals for teams from towns that have less than two vowels in their names and whose school mascot is not a replica of a mammal. Good stuff!There has to be a certain amount of offspring-accomplishment inflation in the world to ensure healthy conversational growth among adults. Im all good with that kind of harmless palaver between consenting parents. Everybody gets it. No more efficient method of vicariously reliving the past, in an attempt to make up for personal shortcomings and failures, has ever been developed than by making ourselves into things we never were through publicizing our progenys achievements: My kid is better than your kid, therefore I wasnt a dork.No, the thing that has me worried is the modern trend of slathering the rich syrup of commendation directly on our little sweeties.There is something disturbing about parents constantly praising children for everything from solving advanced problems in quantum physics, which is rare, to tying their shoes after getting them on the correct feet, which is slightly more common. It doesnt matter what our kids do, we dole out praise for each and every effort, regardless of the amount of effort or even whether the effort was made with any resolve on the childs part. The result is that our children feel like superheroes for simply getting out of bed in the morning ,and, of course, we feel like parents of superheroes, which is really the point, isnt it?The experts in child development, who make their livings by stirring up worries over the same old problems that trillions of parents over the past 6 million years have dealt with (which doesnt mean they are wrong, incidentally), tell us that this unending praise for accomplishing the mundane will wreak havoc with our super-children, when they become adults and realize they barely have the skills to balance the checkbook every month, much less arrive at work each day fully dressed and on time.While I dont disagree with this assessment, I tend to boil it down to a more mundane analysis: Constant praise and encouragement subtly informs our children that being average is bad. Being normal is the same as failing. Run of the mill is for everybody else.Why is it a mistake to make our kids feel bad about being average? Well, because all things considered, the truth is that we are all just average. So if we equate being average with being a failure, that means we are all failures. If we are all failures, then there is no hope, especially when we all feel superior and cant get a damn thing done.It will never work to examine ourselves to see the truth in this observation. I recommend that we critically examine each other instead. In doing this, we find that most people are really good at something, and because they are so good at that thing, they tend to believe it is very important. This thing usually will consume their lives, and since they will spend all of their time doing it, they will by default believe that they are good at everything they do which is technically true, but they are, in fact, only really doing one thing.They will be so focused on being so good at this one thing that they will not even realize that everyone else is so caught up in the single things they do best that nobody in this huge world really gives a damn about what any other person is excelling at. We are all so impressed with our own accomplishments that we glowingly comment on other peoples accomplishments only because it is the polite thing to do, it is an easy way to get people to shut up, or we hope that they will return the flattering favor.We have all seen how these laws of average work. There are people who wasted their youth in dark basements playing Dungeons & Dragons and watching Star Trek reruns and thus find themselves one day with a lot of catching up to do. These people usually become very rich later in life working with computers. There are others who are royalty at their high school proms four years running who then relax into the comfort of steady work as nighttime security personnel. Go ahead and do the math. Tell me who had more glorious years with members of the opposite sex crawling all over them?It doesnt end with that example either. Some people are good at math and clueless about philosophy. Some are good at acting, and others can lift heavy weights. Some are fast runners while others develop complex econometric algorithms. Some take beautiful photographs but dont posses photographic memory. Some people make a lot of money; some make a lot of love. Some people can read Greek, and others are hacky-sack prodigies. Then, after everything else, the greatest equalizer of all death once and for all puts any argument about individual superiority to rest, so to speak.And if you still honestly believe you are above average at everything, that only means you are severely lacking in self-evaluation and humility. So you see, all things considered, you are average, too.So, then, I believe the better approach to raising children is to teach them that being normal is normal. I think it would make their lives a lot less stressful, the world a much friendlier place and force a lot of trophy-making companies to retool and make farm implements instead; you know, stuff that should make us parents feel really good about ourselves.Roger Marolt hopes you find this column above average. But he doubts it. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com


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