Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Sugar" substitutes, and it has left me HUNGRY...

So when a professor spends an entire class building all of your documents on Google (which is a truly happy, effective, resourceful and appreciated decision!), you sit up and notice when he hands you a paper article printed in color, especially when it's called: "How Not to Talk to Your Kids". (Read it now, it's a game changer: How Not to Talk to Your Kids.)

For me the reaction began with the usual ferocity of highlighting, evolved into internal high-fiving, and resulted in my personal version of making it viral - i.e. creating a mental checklist of everyone I would send it to before the day was done. 

It made such an impact because it hit close to home. It discusses a practice I have done all my life and never stopped to consider might have a consequence. FOR YEARS, our culture (myself included) has believed in self-esteem research from decades ago telling us as parents and educators alike that we NEED to tell kids how smart they are. Whatever the motive or logic behind said research, they effectively programmed us to internalize this thinking, and today we say, "You are so smart," to students and our children with as much ease and sub-conscious effort as, "Thank you" and "How are you?". It's just what you do - it's what you say....."You're just so smart."

Along comes recent research and pokes holes in that thinking all over the place! Recent studies, extensive and multiple studies, reveal that praise, self esteem and performance rise and fall together. This means that the 1960's concept of self-esteem was littered with flawed science. It also means that as a result we have raised the most recent generation as the most entitled generation our nation has ever known (which, by the way, is my #BIGGESTPETPEEVE). If I had even thought about uttering words even resembling  "you owe me" to an adult or anyone my parents would have knocked me into another time zone. But as it is now, we have this entire generation of kids willing to stake the claim, and we as adults "are so confused about how that's occurring." (note my sarcasm)

If I'm being honest, I've contributed to the problem, moreso as a teacher. (I'm pretty new to the parenting role). But here's what the newest research has taught me (already!): "Esteem-building praise causes grades to sink further," and the article goes on to imply that it also makes entitlement rise. And here's how they know: "Dweck's research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern - they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down." Furthermore, the article states that people with the trait/ability of repeatedly responding to failure by exerting more effort - instead of simply giving up [and instead of receiving praise] - inherit persistence, rebound well, and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification.

Now, for those of us like myself who are ingrained to offer affirmation that sounds like, "You're smart", the authors caution us on the withdrawl we will feel, but assure us that the children won't feel it like we do. And they give many suggestions for "sugar" substitutes of yore, such as, "I am in your corner and I believe in you." You can troll the article for suggestions that work for you. Either way, we all need to straight up pinky swear that we will stop the madness that has become enabled and coddled self-esteem minions. 

I have parents who became parents in the early 70s, so for all intents and purposes they should have bought into the 60s philosophy of instilling in their children praise self-esteem. But every time I failed a test - which was often and almost always in math - my parents would say, "You will try again. But from this test you did not fail because you learned perseverance. We believe in you." Pretty proud of the peeps right now....turns out they had it figured out long before the rest of us. 

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