Maybe I’m still a little shellshocked by images of tender snowflake college students wilting in the wake of the presidential elections, unable to sit for final exams in their grief over the fact they actually lost at something, incomprehensibly enabled by their professors, who canceled classes and postponed the exams until they could recover. But, I’m really afraid of raising a generation of kids who are so used to believing the world is about them and everyone gets a trophy that they are completely unable to handle what life throws at them.
As unpopular as it may sound in this culture, cultivating a healthy self-awareness in your children is actually a loving thing to do. Giving them constructive criticism, loving and gentle- “Sweetie, I love hearing you sing, and so does the Lord, but it’s really not your thing,” “Hey, bud, I understand you’re probably not going to be an engineer, I wasn’t a math genius either, but you still have to get through algebra,” or, “We need more time as a family, honey. Let’s pick two of these five activities you’re doing, and focus on those. I can give you a little guidance on which you might choose, if you’d like”- are really our jobs as parents. We can do that through humor, through emphasizing their strengths to draw contrast with their weaknesses, or through Paul’s metaphor of the Body of Christ. But, as parents, we’re their best critics. They know we love them and are behind them 100 percent (they should-that’s what hugs and praise are for), so that when we gently break it to them that they’re really bad at something, they know we mean it with their good in mind and at heart.
I’m not saying kids shouldn’t try hard things, or that there isn’t goodness in pursuing challenges. But, for kids to think they’re awesome at everything because that message has been repeatedly reinforced by their parents, with no constructive criticism, and no framework for discernment, is dangerous and actually heretical. We are not created “well-rounded.” We are specifically created to be “out of round.” That’s why the Body of Christ exists- for our brothers and sisters to be strong where we are weak, and vice versa, and for us to glorify God more fully together.
Teaching my kids they’re awesome at everything breeds narcissism and entitlement, and cripples them from succeeding in a world where not everyone thinks they’re as fabulous as I do (I know, crazy, right?). What’s infinitely worse, and perhaps damaging to their very souls, is that failing to cultivate self-awareness in my kids makes it even more difficult to help them be convicted that they’re depraved, separated from God by their sin, and that they are in desperate need of a Savior. Their sin nature and our culture are already lying to them about those things. They really don’t need our help in their own self-delusion. Instead, they need us to be the voice of godly, measured reality in their lives: strongly encouraging the good, constructively criticizing what’s not so good, but always in kindness, gentleness, and love.
Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for our kids is telling them when they really stink.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.