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Should we let kids feel exclusion's sting?

-- Penny Grossman cringes each time a student mentions a birthday party during class at her Boston, Massachusetts-area preschool. The rule there, and at a growing number of America's schools, is that parties and play-dates shouldn't be discussed unless every child in the room is invited.

Gone are the days when a kindergartner dropped a handful of party invites in the classroom cubbyholes of their closest buddies. Today, if anyone is excluded the invitations can't be handed out at school.

The idea that protecting kids from rejection is crucial to safeguarding their self-esteem has gained momentum in recent years.

Take Valentine's Day: At some schools, a second-grader can't offer paper valentines or heart-shaped candies to a short list of pals and secret crushes anymore. They give cards to everyone or no one at all.

Or sports: In many towns, scorekeeping no longer happens at soccer or softball games played by kids under 8 or 9. Win or lose, every player in the league gets a trophy at the season's end.

As with many child-rearing trends, some parents and educators see wisdom where others spot foolishness. Many see a mixture of both.

"You try and do things gently when they're little because it is still hard," says Grossman, who is raising two teenagers while teaching preschool. "But I think this is a problem, and it's a growing one, because kids grow up and have this inflated sense of self-worth. Whether they earn anything, it's always a trophy. They have no sense that you have to work hard for some things."

Susan Reel, a mother of two living in Madison, Connecticut, doesn't see a downside to inviting the whole class to a birthday party.

"When they're in first and second grade, their friends are so day-to-day. It's who they played with yesterday," she says. "So to pick one or the other is shortsighted on the parents' part."

She believes that schools are paying more attention to children's feelings because they understand better today the damage done when a small group of kids is consistently excluded.

"When we went to school, people were bullied. Now we know kids have a much greater instance of suicide and depression when they've been bullied," she says.

Jolie Nichols, also a mother of two, disagrees. She believes kids in her Minneapolis neighborhood would benefit from competing for a trophy or handling a mild bit of rejection.

"It's just natural and it's realistic to have to deal with these things," she says. At her 7-year-old daughter's gymnastics class, everyone receives the same ribbon or medal for their performance, regardless of how well they've done.

Rather than imparting self-esteem, some experts believe this gives kids an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

"Self-esteem comes from those feelings you have about yourself for a job well done, for when you have achieved something," says Dr. Georgette Constantinou, administrative director of pediatric psychiatry at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. "It's not something you pour into your children."

She feels that many parents aren't equipping their kids to manage basic challenges.

"How do you expect them to handle life's big bumps if they haven't experienced the little ones?" she asks.

No one disagrees that disappointment is real: There are contests we all lose, parties we're excluded from. But what motivates so many parents to postpone that reality until their children reach the age of 10 or beyond?

For one thing, kids' lives are so tightly scheduled today that we're enrolling smaller and smaller children in organized activities. It may be true that 6-year-olds aren't ready to handle losing a T-Ball championship; a generation ago, 6-year-olds wouldn't have even been playing team sports.

Parents may also be reacting to their own economic and career stress by trying to protect their kids from it.

"This group is balancing things that previous generations haven't had to balance," says Constantinou. "The number of women in the work force is phenomenal, probably the largest since the war years, so you have a lot more stressed parents."

Busy parents turn to schools and other care-givers for help, says Mike Sanchez, co-owner of Camp Innovation, a Houston, Texas-area day camp. It does offer competitive games, but also gives each camper an award each week.

"I tell counselors, always find something specific about the kids," Sanchez says. "It helps with parents who say they may not be cleaning at home or working well with a brother or sister. We work on it, and then give them an award for best spirit of the week, best cleaner of the week."

Critics of the trend worry about a generation of kids who haven't experienced rejection or failure -- especially compared with countries such as China and Japan, where a focus on competition defines the lives of many children.

Learning to compete, says Nichols, is vital. "It sets them up for real life things like a job," she says. "It helps people develop their skills."


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I love how they are trying to turn our nation's children into a steaming pile of wimps. Guess what, when you get out of school, nobody is going to be nice to you and they do keep score.

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Here is the very best parenting advice I ever heard. I wish I could remember who said it:

"Do not cripple your children by making their lives easy."

Whoever said that said a mouthful. Living in Mountain Brook, I see the children divided into roughly two categories. The ones who are hardworking and industrious like their parents, and the ones who have everything taken care of them by indulgent mothers, housekeepers, babysitters, lawn services, etc. etc. The first type of child is always welcome in my household, because their values are aligned with my own. The second type of child? I steer my children from them, because their spoiled attitudes have a habit of rubbing off on others, which leads to unrealistic expectations in life.

Children need to be taught to work from an early age. Children need to know that while life can be unfair and cruel, they need to behave decently and with respect for others. Children need to know that not everybody can win, which means somebody has to lose. It also means that you might not get invited to a 10-year-old's birthday party. And if you don't, it's not the end of the world. It may mean that the parents just could invite everybody for reasons unrelated to your popularity.

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I had it pretty good growing up, but I did learn the value of hard work and disipline. While I can totally see the sports angle of these bleeding hearts (youth sports should be about a LOT more than keeping score), most kids today (and a lot of young adults I've met recently as well) need a swift kick in the hind parts just before being sent off to work on a tobacco farm or paper mill for a year or so.

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Unfortunately, you see the effects from this in college classes too now. A while ago, you earned a high school degree. Then they became expected. However, you still had to earn a college degree. Many students now just expect them. They skate by learning just enough to pass and get a diploma. Hard work is unheard of, along with priority. This is a direct result of babying kids through elementary and middle school, and now high school. My hope is universities don't crack under the pressure to "eliminate competiton" and don't get scared to "hurt students' feelins." If high schools see they aren't preparing the youth for college and life, maybe they will eventually reverse the trend.

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Yeah, this is exactly why you see the kids, especially, teenagers of today to not be able to handle the tough parts of their lives. They can't handle losing or rejections, so they become either a bunch of whiners, or the lash out and become violent. Handling rejection is part of life and it builds character.

I am not for bullying by any means, but the two most picked on kids in my grade in elementary became pretty successful in high school and later on in life. One of them became the valdectorian of our class and now makes more money than all of our class combined. The other one I know pretty well, because it was me. I was picked on in elementary school because I was very short for my age and I also did not wear the best looking clothes, etc., because at that time my parents were not that well off. So, I got called alot of different names and got bullied alot, but I stood my ground also. Did it hurt my feelings? Heck yeah. Did it make me mad and want to try harder to prove myself? Hell yeah it did! Did I grow up wanting to kill and be violent as a teenager when things did not go my way? No, because at an early age and because of good parenting, I learned how to deal with rejection. By the time I reached the 9th grade, I had practiced so hard with athletics, especially baseball, the high school coaches were using me more and making me a starter because they did not have sons on their team to start ahead of better players and they did not care about appeasing parents. I also became the #3 guy academically in the class. After high school, I have lived and did more then most of my class have. Heck, alot of them have rarely been out of the state, much less the country.

But, the way society wants to protect kids now from any rejection or loss, more and more kids are not showing the drive to make themselves better. Everybody is equal, so nobody has to work harder to become equal.

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Sometime in the 60's or 70's.

Actually, I believe it was the DAY slickus maximus first took office. :blink:

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As my good friend Richard said (May he rest in peace): Tough Titty Makes Strong Babies.

Amen to that! My paw paw used to say something like that when us grandsons used to gripe about a weekend of breaking in horses. My family lived on a section of land on part of the horse ranch my grandfather owned. He actually owned horses that Hollywood would buy for western TV series and movies. Some horses we raised from birth, but mostly he bought them young.

I was the oldest grandson, the second oldest grandchild out of 17 of that side of the family. I had three other male cousins who were all less then a year younger them me and lived within a half of mile of me, with my best friend being just a few months younger then me also. My brother and another cousin was just 3 years younger then us older ones, so we had a good crew of boys to hand around and play all day. Good number to play football, wiffle ball, basketball, shoot each other with BB guns playing war, etc.

Anyway, us grandsons, when we were old enough as teenagers, graduated from basic garden and barn help to breaking in the horses when necessary. When one had enough of a horse, another would jump on. Some of the best memories I have is getting our asses whopped by young colt. My younger brother eventually got into horses when he got older, but unfortunately, Paw Paw died when he was about 16. Living on a farm like that taught me hard work and how to work through tough times. My parents still own about three acres of that land, but a local radio weather man, Gerald Miller of WDRM for you North Alabama folks, bought the remainder of the land from one of my cousins a few years ago and he raises goats on it now.

If anybody would like read a good story about what it means to be raised right on a farm and how a man still longs for those days, then PM me. I took an English class over the summer and wrote a paper about my Paw Paw. The professer gave me an A+, which is something he said he rarely does and he also asked my permission to use it as an example for future classes.

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