This morning as I was driving my 6-year-old to his adventure day camp (it’s 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. – can I get a “hell, yeah!”), I was half listening to the kids discuss the local poultry factory we were passing (charming) and half keeping an ear to the radio where the DJs were discussing the idea that our society repeatedly instills in children from birth that they are “special” is actually harmful and creating a generation of entitled brats.
Because I was only able to half listen, I had to do a little Googling to figure out what brought this conversation to the radio; I assumed it was some newsworthy event. Turns out that a few days ago English teacher/commencement speaker David McCullough, Jr. told a group of Massachusetts high school seniors that they weren’t special. (Gasp. I really can imagine their horror – and their parents’.)
According to CNN.com, McCullough’s speech included telling the graduates that “they’ve been pampered all their lives by parents, teachers and others, but now they need to slip up and make mistakes as they try to make it as adults.”
Huh. I’m pretty sure McCullough has a point. At the very least, his comments and the discussion about them on the radio have me examining this part of my parenting repertoire. I mean, thanks to the Internet, parenting books, friends and well, everyone and everything around me, I thought the right thing to do was remind my children that they were special simply for waking up in the morning. I mean, aren’t they special?
But I loved what the guy on the radio said (I have no idea who he was; I must have missed his name when the kids were discussing how they make chicken nuggets into dinosaur shapes at the poultry plant. What? I didn’t have it in me to explain things to them this morning.) He said that our kids aren’t special, rather they are born with the opportunity to be special. They aren’t entitled to good grades and sports championships and cool cars simply “because.” But they are entitled to the opportunity to earn those things – to be special because of hard work and perseverance. And, I might add, some damn good parents.
Sure, everyone is unique. Everyone is different. But, by definition, if everyone is special then no one is special.
So, I suppose, at the risk of forever damaging what I’ve been taught is my children’s delicate self-esteem, I’ll stop saying, “You’re so special,” at every twist and turn.
Instead I’ll say, “There’s no one like you. You have the opportunity to be special today by the choices you make. To be special, you can live with love, be kind, show respect. This is your opportunity.”