By Sue Leonard.
Published in The Evening Herald. 5th July. 2008.
From the moment our children are born, we feel an overwhelming desire to protect them. We don’t want anything, or anyone to impinge on their perfect world.
We want, especially, to build their self esteem. So we praise them. And society concurs. Children are forever getting stars for being good; and medals not just for winning; but for taking part in sports.
And the result? We’re raising a generation of Little Emperors. Children who ‘rule’ the house. Their toys take over the living space; they choose what to watch on TV, and their first scribblings have pride of place on the walls.
They’re so used to having their time ‘scheduled’ by over caring parents, that they don’t know what it means to be bored. They’re not used to natural feelings of failure either. And that could lead to problems in the future.
Are schools to blame? Does the caring sharing environment where participation is rewarded rather than ability, foster an atmosphere of entitlement?
John Carr, General Secretary of the Union for Primary Schools, INTO, feels to blame schools is to fudge the issue.
“The Little Emperor phenomenon comes from the trend for smaller families and richer, more indulgent parents,” he feels. “And that is not the same as the trend for recognising effort in schools.
“In the past only a small elite got praised in school. Only those coming top. If you weren’t on the football team, or starring in the school play you got ignored. We must recognise effort as well as achievement.
“Introducing competition too early can be damaging,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than an 8 year old saying, ‘I am terrible at soccer.’ The focus, at that stage should be on participation not competition.”
Is consumerism to blame? Watching endless MTV and being constantly on line, our children believe that to consume is natural and normal. They think looking perfect will lead to success. And this rather worries Rowan Manahan, a career coach and author of ‘Where’s my Oasis.’
“A child’s sense of entitlement and their sense of privilege starts very young,” he says. “It’s a bad idea to tell someone they are great when, clearly, they are not. When praise is misplaced it turns quickly into delusion.
“Take pop idol,” he says. “You can see the absolute conviction on a competitors face that they have what it takes, and ‘what does Simon Cowell know?’ Even when, clearly, they haven’t an ounce of talent.”
It’s the same when they leave college. Graduates, Manahan says, have hopelessly unrealistic expectations of what any job will entail.
“They think the world is a meritocracy, and they believe that their talent will out,” he says. “They think teams are collaborative and co-operative. They are convinced that they will ‘have it all.’ Work comes as a huge culture shock.
“By the time they are 28 they may have made a series of moves. They’d say it was for more money, or for a funded MBA, but there is, I think, an unconscious thought there too.
“They think, ‘work can’t be like this everywhere. It can’t be this cold and unfeeling and this callous.’ And when they hit 30 they have an early midlife crisis. They think, ‘how can I do this for the rest of my life?’ They feel they’re not loved; they are not respected, and they are not even a number.”
· A recent production of Snow White at a Primary School in Japan featured 25 snow whites; no dwarfs and no wicked witches. Parents objected to one child being picked for the leading role.
· The head of HR in a leading Irish Company described Ireland’s young job seekers as ‘impossible.’ “They have totally unrealistic expectations and have a delusion in the value they will bring, and the pay packet they should receive,” he said.
· The Association of Graduate Recruiters in England would concur. They reported that one new recruit rang his mother to complain that he had to go to London the next day. ‘And they haven’t even given me a map,’ he whined.
© Sue Leonard. 2008.