I was eight-years-old when my teacher threw my artwork in the trashcan.
We had drawn faces and were to tear tiny pieces of paper from magazines to create a mosaic. Some kids worked on theirs for weeks, meticulously tearing and gluing the small pieces of paper. I spent those hours doing things like rubbing glue on my hands until it dried and then peeling it off like skin.
One day Ms. Giovando announced that we were to turn in our mosaics so she could hang them on the wall. I peeled the last piece of glue off my hand and quickly cut five large pieces of beige paper to glue on my face. I drew on the eyes and found one piece of red paper for the lips. I drew the hair with a crayon, and ran it to the front of the room. Ms. Giovando loved me, and I was sure she would value my minor effort.
She didn’t. Instead, she looked at me and said, “I’m not putting that up. You didn’t even try.” She then threw it into the trashcan. I made my red-faced walk of shame back to the desk. I was only in third grade, but I knew she was right.
Today it seems we live in a society where some children are praised for existing. I watched a mother the other day praise her four-year-old to the skies for putting back a toy without throwing a tantrum. She was already buying him four other toys, and the child had picked up another at the cash register. When she told him she didn’t have enough money for the fifth toy, he said, “You never buy me anything!” and started to whimper.
The mother explained, AGAIN, how she didn’t have the money for a fifth toy. He put out his bottom lip, and slammed the toy back onto the hook.
“Wow,” the mom explained, “that’s my good boy.” She looked around at all of us waiting for the slow clap to begin, but we were just trying not to wallop the child.
“You are such a good, good boy,” she continued on high volume. “The way you put that toy back showed what a big boy you are. I am going to fix you something special for lunch, young man. You deserve it.”
The kid looked bored by the whole thing, and was staring at her wallet trying to find those extra bills so he could get the fifth toy.
Can you imagine trying to manage that child some day? What will be his expectation for praise?
“Wow, young man, you showed up for work today. That is amazing. I think you deserve a bonus.”
I’m not saying the younger generation is a problem – that’s too cliche. Every group of adults thinks the younger generation is going to destroy the world. No, this is on the parents that have exaggerated the contribution of every effort exerted by their children. I’d like to create a poster that says:
No, every child should not play every minute of every soccer game.
No, every child should not be given an “A” just because they do the work.
No, every child should not get into a college just because they want to.
No, your child is NOT the next Beyonce.
We are selling our children short. They know when they’ve done something that is praise-worthy, and they know when they haven’t. Believe it or not, they would prefer to earn your praise. When they don’t have to earn it they find life boring and a little too easy. Then they get into real trouble.
Try to withhold the praise until it is earned — your child will appreciate it more.
And, future managers will be able to focus on performance rather than everyone’s need for constant recognition.
That’s my thought, any way. What about you? Have I exaggerated the issue?