My response to Karren Brady’s recent article in The Sun. Find it here
I think the word ‘amazing’ gets used a little bit too much these days. And don’t even get me started on that whole ‘sha-mazing’ thing. Boy was that annoying. But when it comes to my children, I’m very happy to tell them they’re amazing. Incredible. Awesome. Beautiful. Wonderful. Precious. They are all of those things and more.
So, when I came across Karren Brady’s article in The Sun this week and I read the title ‘Parents need to stop telling their kids they’re amazing’, I was naturally intrigued. She went on to argue that if we don’t stop telling our children they are amazing ‘they’ll struggle to cope in the real world.’ Uh-Oh, I could’ve thought. I’ve really dropped my kids in the brown stuff. I’ve ruined their lives. I’ve accidentally removed any chance they had of being able to cope in the real world. I’ve failed them. They are doomed. I am the worst parent ever.
I could have thought that. I didn’t. But I could have. Instead I fiercely rejected every point that the article made.
Basically, in a nut shell, Karren Brady believes that we are over praising our children. She thinks that this results in them struggling in the world of work as they get older because they expect ‘continuous praise and instant success’. She goes on to say that one of the key issues she encounters during her work with young people is their ‘raging sense of entitlement’. They, basically, expect the world on a platter because they’ve been told that is exactly what they can have.
I tell my children they are amazing every single day (although, I change up the vocabulary from day to day to keep it interesting). That is because that every single day they do, or say, something that makes me proud. That might be something as little as putting their dirty washing in the right place (although, I must admit, that doesn’t happen very often!) or being kind, understanding, tolerant. My children are pretty amazing. (It’s now even irritating me at how many times I’m using that word!). Sod that. They are incredibly awesome. Without fail, they make me proud to be their mum. Every. Single. Day. Why shouldn’t I tell them that? And if I do continue to do this, is Karren Brady to be believed? Is it really going to hamper their chances of coping with the real world if I do?
I don’t think so.
I used to teach at secondary level a number of years ago. The number of children I met with low self esteem and low self confidence was astounding. It was the type of low self esteem that was as limiting as a ten foot brick wall surrounding them. They couldn’t escape it. They could not break through that wall. For some children it revolved around their appearance. For others it was about their academic ability, or their ability to make friends and ‘be popular’. They felt that they were at floor level and everybody else was up in the stars. That sort of mindset has a long term effect. Karren Brady is concerned about young people turning up for work with an expectation that they will be successful, or an expectation that they will be promoted quickly or believe that one day they’ll be running the place. I would be more concerned about the young people who wouldn’t even have the confidence to turn up for the job interview. Or apply for a job in the first place.
Being a young person isn’t easy. It’s far harder when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin and you lack the confidence to be yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently on the power of affirmations and it is no different to what millions of parents are doing every single day in telling their children that they are amazing. If you tell someone something for long enough, they will start to believe it themselves. Tell your children they are beautiful, they are clever, they are going to change the world, often enough and they too will believe it. From that place will grow confidence and self esteem. From that will grow ambition, drive and pride. How can that be a bad thing?
Karren Brady also explores the theory that working parents over praise their children because they feel guilty about not being around more for them. She’s right about the guilt thing – every single time I leave my baby at nursery on a morning I feel guilt. Every time my son asks to do something fun during the school holidays and I have to go to work instead, I feel guilt. But that’s not why I tell them they are amazing. I tell them they are amazing because they are exactly that: amazing.
Karren goes on to say that children who grow up being praised all the time will at some point enter the real world and realise the ‘unpaletable truth’ that praise has to be earned and that you have to work hard to become the best at anything. There is a huge presumption here that because we praise our children, we are not instilling a strong work ethic in them and that’s wrong. I believe that the bigger we build our children up, the bigger they will dream to achieve. If we tell our children they are capable of conquering the world, they will dream about conquering the world. That gives them ambition, drive and determination. As long as we promote a strong work ethic and continue that conversation by reminding them that whilst they are capable of conquering the world, they have to work very hard to do so, they will not expect success to fall at their feet overnight.
Karren closes her article with a suggestion that our over-praised children can’t grow up and even begin to consider working in a business because they won’t even have the capacity to ‘connect with real human beings’. This still puzzles me. I think that one of our biggest jobs as parents is to make our children aware of their capabilities. We should be making them feel like they could rule the world standing on one foot with a blindfold on. We need to reinforce the need to aim high. Dream big. We need to tell them ‘you are good enough’ , ‘you can achieve anything you want’ ‘You are who you are and we are so proud of you’. As long as we use our praise as a tool to drive our children forward, a tool to encourage them to dream big, a tool to reinforce a strong work ethic, then those children will aim high. They will dare to dream big and they will do their very best to achieve those dreams. But without that self belief they won’t get off the starting blocks. We need to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. And we do that by telling them how incredibly amazing they are.