This morning I read a nice little article that you just might want to print out and stick on your fridge to read when you’re discouraged. It’s an interview with Alfie Kohn, published in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. I’ve been aware of Alfie Kohn’s work for years, primarily his criticism of the value of homework and standardized testing. Now, he’s written a book that takes on the entrenched notion that today’s young people are a bunch of lazy, spoiled, narcissistic brats who have been coddled all their lives. I haven’t read the book (I just heard about it today), but every single thing he says in this short Q & A is absolutely bang on, and really needs to be said. Actually, it will need to be said over and over and over and over, because there is no shortage of people who seem bent on casting doom and gloom about the current generation of parents and kids. This older generation (I’m part of the “older” generation by the way) penchant for hand-wringing goes back at least as far as Socrates and Plato, and probably further. And, as Mr. Kohn points out, it’s amazing how quickly each generation forgets that most of what they are saying about the younger generation was said about their own generation 30 or 40 years ago.
That’s why there will always be a lineup of people eager to tell you that you’re being too nice to your kids, or that you aren’t firm enough with them, or that you shouldn’t let them into your bed, or that you must teach them to “self-soothe” or that the reason your young adult child is having trouble finding a job is that you didn’t let him fail enough. Actually, I especially thank Mr. Kohn for attacking the cherished notion that failure teaches kids how to succeed. My observation has been the opposite. For the most part failure tends to teach kids how to fail – that they are incapable, not very smart or that there is no point in trying. Of course, it’s not black and white. Nothing is. There is a level at which people can learn from failure — or, more to the point, trying to do something and not doing it as well as you’d hoped to — but failing not nearly as great or reliable a teacher as many people make it out to be, especially for young children.
Anyway, print this column off stick it on your fridge, and reread it every time someone tells you the parenting sky is falling. It may help you feel a little better. And, as I’ve said before, when parents feel a little better, they usually parent a better.
If you want to know more about Alfie Kohn and his book, The Myth of the Spoiled Child, check out his website.