Praise may be hurting kids more than it helps

Last week, in “The Most Praised Generation Goes to Work,” Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow reported about how companies have to teach managers that younger workers need constant praise, even for arriving on time to work, because of the way they have been brought up.

Such younger workers have been overpraised since childhood, and taught to believe they are extraordinarily special. So now we have to throw confetti at them, send them thank you notes almost daily by email or in person, and on and on.

Zaslow has just reported in today’s Wall Street Journal on the feedback he’s received from the first article, and it reminded me of an experience we had a couple of years ago.

My youngest daughter was co-captain of her junior varsity cheerleading squad. The girls were competing in one of these regional cheer competitions that have elevated cheerleading from its former role as an adjunct to boys’ sports. They were one of two squads competing in a particular level of the competition, and at the end, during the awards ceremony, the girls went wild when they heard the announcer report that the “First place in the JV division goes to Cherry Hill East!”

My daughter and her co-captain proudly retrieved their trophy and went back to a big celebratory group hug with the rest of the team. (You can watch the team video I created that includes the celebratory moment here.)

Just as our girls were jumping up and down hugging each other, the announcer declared that the “Championship Trophy” in that division had gone to the other team.

In other words, our girls didn’t come in first, they came in second of two teams, or, as we would have said in a less-praiseworthy time, they were LAST.

But in the interests of overpraising (and maybe a little resume stuffing?), the competition organizers didn’t award first- and second-place trophies, they awarded Championship and First-Place.

Even my daughter saw through that. On the ride home, she told us “When we realized that we came in second, we felt really stupid for going all crazy and happy like that.”

Somewhere, some kid is probably listing that first place trophy on a college application, too. Who’s going to check?

The bottom line is, as Zaslow noted, we are not doing our kids any good by making them think they can never fail. They need to have normal disappointments in life.

When I was laid off from a job in the early 1990s and went to a job-seeker support group at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, we jokingly called it a “character-building exercise.” But it really was, and our kids need some smaller ones before they have to cope with those bigger ones.

2 Comments on Praise may be hurting kids more than it helps

  1. Steve,I could not agree with you more. I have been saying this for years! Life is full of ending up in last place, and kids need to learn early that they can’t always be the winner, and for every winner there is someone who has to loose. The law of averages will guarentee that sometimes they have to be the looser. It is called life.Regards,Deborah Gouin

  2. Steve,I could not agree with you more. I have been saying this for years! Life is full of ending up in last place, and kids need to learn early that they can’t always be the winner, and for every winner there is someone who has to loose. The law of averages will guarentee that sometimes they have to be the looser. It is called life.Regards,Deborah Gouin

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