Faux Praise and Low Expectations

Keith McCurdy
Keith McCurdy

Have you ever wondered if whether or not we praise our children for what really matters?  Are our efforts and monies spent on the many activities of childhood going in the right places?  In the past several months I asked many different families struggling with unruly children to calculate how much money they were spending annually on “travel” sports. 

While I knew the numbers would be big, I was even shocked at the numbers that came in.  Among ten different families, the grand total was $150,000….that is an average of $15,000 a family.  All of these families by the way had one child participating on a team and by all accounts were average middle class families.  That is more than a year of private schooling or in many cases college.  That is outrageous!

The issue is not the sports and possibly not the money.  The issue is, as I mentioned in the beginning, “unruly kids.”  We used to applaud moral character, now we applaud plastic trophies.

It is always interesting to me, whenever I read new studies about all of the conditions of childhood mental illness that we currently over-medicate, that one of the “disclaimers” that is often seen is a statement that goes something like this: “While it may seem easy to blame parenting for this unexplained rise in occurrence, there are many other indicators that would make that an unfair assumption.”

Are we really that fragile as adults? Can we not take ownership of messing up how we parent our kids today?  The previous example is just one of thousands of instances where we miss the boat.  If you have unruly and out of control kids, why would you be paying tens of thousands of dollars for activities and plastic trophies that will mean nothing to 99% of them later in life?  Something is amiss.

Just think, in 1986 1 in 400 adolescents were prescribed psychiatric medications.  In 2002, that number was 1 in 40.  We went from 1 kid in a school to about 1 in every classroom.  And this occurred during one of the most economically stable times in our recent history and without any major epidemic that can explain this trend.  Do we still want to say that how we parent has nothing to do with this?  Take a guess at what that number is today?

While it is true that parents do not create the child; meaning that a great kid can come from a bad family and vice versa.  It is also true that the family and more specifically the parents are the most significant influence in the life of the developing child.

The most significant change in the lives of our children in the last 50 years in my opinion, and I am not alone, is how we parent.  We have gone from a culture that embraced the idea of raising children of good moral character, children with a strong work ethic, children who regularly stood for what is good and right in this world, children who understood that unless they were respectful members of the family outside activities were kept to a minimum…..to keeping our children happy and entertained.

We have gone from a culture that prepared children for school by making sure they knew how to respect authority and use manners before they entered school, to one consumed with whether or not “Johnny” can read before kindergarten.  The behavior management battle in school is a resulting issue and one that our public schools are losing.  Teachers are not free to teach because of the many different behavioral issues they have to engage daily in the classrooms.

Just last night I watched coverage of Spring Break “activities” in the news.  What I was watching was the outcome evidence for how we do not raise our children well.  The biggest crisis in our nation today is the decay of the American family….and it starts with parents.

The good news is that we as parents are still the most significant influence in the life of the developing child.  The challenge is that we really engage our children in the process.  That instead of applauding plastic trophies and having low expectations, we expect more of them and hold them accountable for when they miss the mark.

We set boundaries that denote what is moral and healthy… and what is not; we expect more from them by doing less for them; and we allow them to suffer discomfort when they are not living up to what is expected.

By parenting differently, we will help to develop quality young adults again…just like we did for generations.  It is in our hands to rebuild the American family…we need to take the ownership.

 Keith continues to work with children, families, and individuals in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas in hopes of helping to rebuild the American family.   For more information and ideas, take a look at his new website and blog at theradicalparent.com.

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