My kids come home from groups at shul with prizes. They go to birthday parties and come with goody-bags. Chanukah just ended and even though we only gave them one gift they got gifts from friends, the nanny and all the parties they attended. Candy is out of fashion and prizes are in. Like candy, in my view these prizes are also unhealthy.
We are raising a generation of children who have so much that they cannot appreciate anything. It’s all about having and not about enjoying or appreciating. I recall playing Monopoly as a kid. The board was so well used that it was coming apart and held together with strips of tape, money was missing and a coke bottle top replaced the misplaced “hat” icon yet we still had hundreds of hours of pleasure. My daughter tells me, “Oh our Monopoly is not the latest version that’s why we don’t play with it anymore”.
I worry that our culture of giving without teaching our kids to work for anything instills self-centeredness and lack resilience in our children.
I wanted to go with my youth group to Israel at age 15. My parents did not have the money for such a trip so at age 14 I got a job at a supermarket and I worked 5 to 7pm every day until I paid for my trip. I learnt at a young age to strive and work for something I wanted. I learned responsibility and the fact that I can influence my own world through my own actions. I became resilient.
After the Sandy Hook massacre we were addressed by a congregant who is a famous forensic psychiatrist. He spoke about the multi-factorial nature of mass shootings and explored the contribution that exposure to violet video games makes to these tragedies. The psychiatrist repeatedly spoke about resilience as an essential component of raising healthy children. Resilience means letting our children fail at times and deal with consequences, its ok if they don’t get trophy or they figure out a squabble with a friend on their own. Or deal with a problem they are having without having a adult solve it for them.
I know from personal experience that if your kid falls at school we get a message even though all is ok. If my child has a bad day at school the teachers are all over the case. This white glove service is designed to make sure no kid falls through the cracks. But I am concerned we are over doing it. We are not leaving room for kids to figure out life, take on challenges, work hard, aspire for goals, deal with disappointment or savor success. All these help a kid learn self-worth and learn to have what is known in personality psychology as an internal locus of control – the belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by controllable factors such as one’s attitude, preparation, and effort and thereby taking responsibility for themselves.
Kids who learn to give to society by visiting the elderly, raising money for causes, helping out at home, volunteering for causes become people who have an internal locus of control, they don’t crack under pressure and they don’t need therapists and understand not only that failure is an integral part of life but how to overcome adversity and become better stronger people through the process.
So maybe it’s not such a bad idea that our children go to shul and come home without a gift. Or if they join a sports team or after school activity and not every one of them get a trophy or medal at the end of the semester. Real life does not give every participant a trophy. Only one job applicant is hired for a position and the rest are disappointed. Not everyone gets into their college of choice. Let us help our children grow up being able to deal with and overcome adversary – this is indeed the best gift we can give them.
Originally published: December 9, 2016
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