Parenting 102: Self Esteem vs. The Neuron Factor

Life is filled with proud moments and disappointments.  I guess it is what you make of these moments that will create the lessons that are learned.

It was a highlight for my parents when I was ceremoniously inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.  Maybe not quite as brag worthy was the fact that my mom tried her best to get me to dress up for school that day while not ruining the surprise, but I was stubborn and rocked out an  Aerosmith T-shirt (which didn’t make me look out-of-place at all…sweet).  Further disappointment ensued when I was unceremoniously removed from the National Junior Honor Society a few months later after getting a C in PE.

Twenty years later and I still don’t know how that happened.

I was recovering from an operation and was placed in adaptive PE which meant that for me PE consisted of walking around the track.  I know that I fight exercise, but come on, even I can muster up the motivation to walk around a track and I always came in first.  The only reason I can come up with is that I switched teachers halfway through the semester when I was placed in adaptive PE,  and she gave me a zero for everything prior to my arrival…anyway I digress.

My parents proceeded to remove my certificate from its frame when they had to turn it back into the school and a few years later replaced it with my sister’s NJHS certificate…awesome.

It also started the short-lived but ever powerful “one social event a week” clause in our parent/child contract.  I guess my brother & sister’s good standing in the National Junior Honor Society allowed them to keep that clause from being invoked.

Needless to say I am pretty confident that while my junior high scholastic exploits left a bit to be desired (although a few years later I did get into Honor Society which was way cooler) it didn’t seem to have any major impact on my self-esteem or my eagerness to learn.  Although here I am 20 years later writing about my tribulations.

One thing that has impacted my self-esteem is the pride I take in watching and assisting Nolin as he becomes his own person.  I am not sure if there is anything that I find more rewarding than watching him grow up and discover the world around him.

We feel Nolin is quite bright (like all parents do) and he never ceases to amaze those around him.  At 19 months he is singing full songs, can pretty  much point out any animal in the known world, can count to 20, knows more capitals that I do, can identify the 7 continents and the animals that inhabit them (although Africa seems to be his fall back when he is not sure where an animal lives as well as when he is unsure of where Uncle Rich may currently be).

All of these accomplishments tend to lead to a lot of clapping, Bravo’s, and other types of praise.  Obvious self-esteem boosters.  At this point if you don’t react fast enough, Nolin will just go ahead and praise himself.  I am pretty sure he doesn’t have a self-esteem issue to be concerned about.

But a recent article in the Washington Post explains that high self-esteem, doesn’t lead to high achievement.  They basically say that children with high self-esteem stop becoming risk takers and shy away from hard assignments because they don’t want to disappoint.

Instead they imply that rather than saying you’re so clever you should instead say you have a whole different set of neurons popping up there.  So I have made it my new New Years resolution to begin responding to Nolin’s achievements with you have a whole different set of neurons popping up there instead of praise like that’s awesome or that rocks that you may hear from a father still rocking an 8th grade Aerosmith T-Shirt .

I figure within a week, I should probably easily count on all my friends realizing I am crazy.  I can also see Jenn & I being characters in the follow-up to Christopher Guest’s 2000 classic Best In Show.  Instead of the Westminster Dog Show it could follow crazy people trying to get their kids into competitive pre-schools by making sure their neurons are always popping…we’d be the Weimaraner couple.

OK, so maybe I am not quite ready to start lowering my son’s self-esteem in order to make him more of a risk taker.  I think I would be a little less worried if Nolin got kicked out of National Junior Honor Society rather than if he tried to get my praise by jumping a motorcycle over alligator infested waters.

Regardless at this point he is only 19 months, so as a parent I should be able to enjoy (just a little bit longer) getting excited when he says we did it after we learn a new song, or when he figures out that Kangaroos live in Australia.  While there may be some merit to the article, I think I will wait until he at least gets to kindergarten before we start making sure he is on the path to getting into an Ivy League school (and I say that in jest cause I would be just as happy if he went to Virginia Tech…on a full ride of course).

2 Thoughts

  1. Paddy, I am so proud of you and Jen for the way you are raising Nolin. Your blog is a joy to read. Thank you for posting it so I can bring back memories of you as a child plus a few laughs.

    1. Thanks Jeanie! If only I knew then what I knew now, I probably wouldn’t have caused my parents so many headaches…I’m just waiting for the day that our neighbor’s older daughter gets stuck taking Nolin to see Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo and then to Burger King for a happy meal (Anne was a trooper)…but we were definitely fortunate to grow up in a fun neighborhood. Hope to see you all the next time we are back in town!

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