7 February, 2013

Your Brilliant Kid?

I’m writing this because I really need to vent and also channel the frustration of numerous friends who happen to be parents. Call it a public service announcement of sorts. (Addendum: Just as I finished this note I was informed by a new friend that there was a kindler/gentler version on the NYT Parenting Blog. It is funny and has lots of neat links and even advocates the occasional victory lap).

But this is my version and if you want to read no further here’s the one-liner: if you think your child is brilliant, shut up about it already.

During the past several months – okay, who am I kidding – during the past several years during which I have lived among the haves (and we are all haves to varying degrees here in Lower Merion, let’s just be clear about that folks), I have had to suffer through dozens upon dozens of social interactions which revolve around the particular difficulties faced by the blessed and the brilliant aged 5-18. The ones who are in “Double Math” the ones who are “Challenge” the ones who are “All Honors” the ones who are overdosing on a packed AP schedule, the ones who have been taking practice SATs since 6th grade, the ones who spend their summers being tutored in one damn subject or the other to further enhance their intellect. (Johns Hopkins Center for the Gifted and Talented, I point a finger at you for your miserable effort to blindside the hapless parent with your little glossy pamphlets about your programs of edification for the young and the bored. I once drank your Kool Aid and it was full of additives and preservatives and all sorts of carcinogenic substances that will addle a child’s brain). For a three-part series of my views on education in general (as well as a small tidbit about the above program), you can read this, which discusses the movie “Waiting for Superman,” or this, which takes on the movie “Race to Nowhere,” or this.

It is bad enough when thoughtless parents sit around bragging about their kids, but what is up with the way they inculcate their kids (thus transformed into brats), with the same notion that making self-aggrandizing pronouncements is the done thing? It is good to be (secretly) proud of the achievements of your kids, it is good to (secretly) sing their praises to everybody in your immediate family (including grandparents, aunts, and cousins several times removed), and (in moderation) to your dearest friends. It is even okay to occasionally yip with excitement over some minor – and at this age, what isn’t minor? – achievement. And if your kid has overcome some hardship in order to get there, sing it sister! But it is not okay to tell me repeatedly that your child is God’s gift to a sorry universe of Plebeians. It is not okay to pretend that you are really discussing a difficulty they are having “fitting in” when what you really want to communicate is that your child is above par. So above par that perhaps the entire public school curriculum ought to be redesigned to fit the particular needs of your child. And more than anything else, it is not okay to do these things in the hearing of other people’s kids.

Here’s the rub – if your child is truly having difficulty fitting in perhaps you should consider turning down the halo over their heads. Perhaps you could reinterpret the poker faces of other parents when you start talking about your kid/brat and understand this: nobody can take your kid for longer than five full minutes. They probably already can’t take you, but you’re an adult, put on the big girl/boy etc. and cope, it’s to late for you anyway – someone else already brought you up and they clearly did a bad job. But why would you pass that baggage on to your kid? Is it really necessary that “Jude” takes it upon himself to inform everybody within ten yards of how easy he finds the maths curriculum? Or for “Yona” to tell everybody she’s “already covered all that” in her “advanced class?” To even bring up any of the “specials” they are involved in? Trust me – other people’s kids are often just as smart, if not smarter, equally deep thinkers, beloved by peer and mentor alike – just because they aren’t braggarts doesn’t mean that they are somehow lacking in intelligence, innate ability, or outstanding talent. They are just better brought up. Yes, it is called Breeding and they have it, your kids don’t.

The fact is nobody gives a flying slang-for-copulating about what all your kid has achieved, is achieving, or has the potential to achieve for the rest of his/her life, if your kid is a self-congratulatory, self-satisfied, smug, socially-inept toad. It is rudimentary. You want your kids to be the twits that keep bleating about themselves go for it. You will gift them with that most enduring curse of childhood – the designation of being an unmitigated annoyance whom everybody tunes out (their teachers will lead on this one, guaranteed), and nobody likes.

Yeah, liking may not be your thing, but you should give your child a chance to experience that for themselves. Achievement, I have found, is truly only wonderful if it (a) does something for humanity and (b) is recognized by your fellow human beings, usually without fanfare or public accolades. Being genuinely liked for nothing you’ve said or done but simply for being a kind and compassionate human being is a lovely feeling, and an enduring one that will outlast the framed certificates and awards. I can tell you that it is better to be the one kid in the entire KG grade that the child with selective mutism chooses as their advocate, than the one whom the entire class will cheer politely for but secretly loathe. Blowing your own trumpet makes for one lonely (and usually dischordant), nerve-jangling band. Do you really want your kid to play in it?

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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