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What Ever Happened to the Average Child?

Every child is deemed special these days in his or her own way.

I was surprised to be the catalyst for a debate on Nature vs. Nurture. The only discussions I provoke are things like, “You’re on a deserted island. Who would you rather be with…Paris Hilton or Snooki?”

One aspect of “Nurture” drives me nuts; it’s a short drive. When did all children become special?  

To give credence to my case: I spent 10 years as a high school English teacher, designed curriculum, taught college, still tutor SAT and work with students on their college application essays. (My real credibility is that you don’t know me. To know me is to not listen to me. Ask my wife).

Children aren’t allowed to be average anymore; they aren’t allowed to fail. The losing teams get trophies. Everyone is a winner. How does a child learn to lose with dignity? How does a child learn that “failure isn’t fatal and success isn’t final?”  What happens to a twenty-something who has been told his whole life how special he is when his boss says, “this work is terrible. Do it again?”

Visit an elementary school at lunchtime. The nurse’s office looks like a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. No child should need anti-anxiety, anti-depressants or mood stabilizers.

Why are they so stressed? Children in the 1950s had to practice air raid drills for when the Russians dropped bombs directly on their heads. Anyone doling out pills? In the 60s, we watched the Vietnam War, race riots and the assassination of great leaders unfold on television. Any meds I was on had more to do with my parents.

Society has created an atmosphere where average has become a dirty word and children are internalizing the message. For many parents, when grades fall below a “B,” get a tutor. Is everyone really an honor student? Does everyone really belong in an AP class? Grades are often artificially inflated to keep parents happy. When a student does so poorly it can’t be manipulated, “The teacher doesn’t like my Nancy.”

Who benefits the most from the SAT? Real estate agents. The school touts a high degree of achievement and everyone moves to that town…which in turn drives property values up. Administrators and teachers aren’t to blame. They work for the communities they serve. What the community demands, they get.

A ninth grader, with three more years of high school before worrying about college, came to see me. “What if I only get a 3.6 and not a 4.0…what kind of college will I get into?”

I could only image the 3 a.m. stress induced fear that sparked his inner monologue. “I have to get into a great college. I’ll get a better job and make more money…my mate, who I would have met at college will also be highly successful…we’ll make tons of money, live in the biggest house, in the best neighborhood with the best school district so our kids will excel and go to the best college. What if I don’t get into the right college? I’ll have an average education, get an average job, be forced to live in an average neighborhood, with average schools and we’ll have average kids. My brother went to Brown.

What if I don’t get into a college as good as that? He’ll make fun of me incessantly for the rest of my miserable life. My parents will love him more, my girlfriend will dump me for him…he’ll become a huge success and I’ll suffer from low self-esteem and be forced to live in a small one room apartment in the shadow of my brother’s mansion. During holidays, I’ll overhear my aunt say, ‘Well…at least the older one made something of himself.’”

I don’t want my girls to ever feel that way. As long as they are healthy and can find joy in the world without harming anyone, that is all I can hope for.

I must stop now. Time to drive my 3 year olds to SAT prep class, followed by Olympic style gymnastics training, then a soccer clinic and finally, from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.,  advanced digital graphics and animation workshop.

Bob Rabey May 11, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Thank you James, that's exactly what I meant.
STEPHEN WANGEL May 12, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Here's one out of left field for you. The word 'special' in your title caught my eye, because my son has autism, and falls under that umbrella of 'special needs'. My son has received trophies for mere participation in sports. While it is a 'feel good' thing for him, it really dilutes true achievements. Then, should he get a trophy for actually being the best at something, it becomes hard to delineate between actually achieving something and just showing up. To hell with the parents who want their kid to be on top, event though their potential is average. I believe that it sets up a lifetime of psychological analysis for the kid. Talk about a major achievement? I would be thrilled if my son grew up and his career choice had him saying "you want fries with that?" It's all about perspective. IMHO
Jenn May 12, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Well put.
Randy Levin May 12, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Stephen, I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, not to besmirch the fine people at Patch, but I purposely didn't put "special" in the title (They wrote the sub-title). I think that you have one of the toughest jobs for a parent and to tell you the truth, I don't know if I could have handled it with the grace and skill I see in other parents with children who have special needs. It's not a conversation out of left field....it is the exception to the "rule." As far as I'm concerned, any child who has any "disadvantage" deserves all the positive accolades for just showing up. To me, a child with Autism is a winner for doing anything you were told he couldn't do. I don't know if that makes sense. It's a very emotional topic for me. My best wishes to you and your family. Maybe by the time he's grown, he'll manage the place instead of serving the fries. Meanwhile.....are you familiar with the story of the Trip to Holland and the Windmills? If not, PLEASE email me at randylevin11@gmail.com
LivingTheDream June 19, 2011 at 02:26 AM
I believe all children are special as in unique, but not to mean better or "tops." When everyone is special it does take something away from it I agree ,but good feelings shared are worth it in my opinion

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