Brag, Brag, Braggity Brag

Back in the day, people politely filtered out personal information that they would willingly share with close friends and family when conversing with acquaintances. Boasting was considered bad form. More recently, the line between the two has become blurred. Bragging to acquaintances and a general tendency towards oversharing is, sadly, on the rise, as is today’s youth’s sense of entitlement. And don’t get me started about the minutiae that Facebook users are unembarrassed to share as well as the accomplishments of their children, significant others, and themselves, while expecting the rest of us to respond in a positive way to these trifles and boasts.

No wonder so many of today’s youth feel entitled.

It begins at birth. “What a big baby!” is high praise. Bigger babies are apparently more desirable than smaller ones, despite the fact that short persons tend to live longer than tall ones. Not only do parents share their child’s birth weight, but also height and head circumference. Milestone doctor visits provide size-related information for mothers and fathers to brag about-complete with percentiles, which provide for even easier comparisons. Soon it’s the eruption of the kid’s teeth from the kid’s gums, the age at which he takes his first steps and the emission of his first words. This is all done with the added too-tight tracking of age: by weeks, then months, half years, then…finally…years. Trust me. Nobody cares whether your child is ten weeks old, or, in fact, eleven.

When the child begins preschool, his skill at numbers and language compared to his peers become fair game. His participation in sports provides a new category. While most players readily abandon their position to swarm the soccer ball, Junior scores (insert number) goals! At the end of the season, everyone gets a trophy which fuels his already significant feelings of entitlement. Soon his sports skills exceed that of his recreational league teammates, so he joins a more competitive league, increasing his status as an athlete and his parents’ braggadocio. Academic bragging, I mean tracking, begins early: from leveled reading groups to gifted programs to above-grade level classes to Advanced Placement courses. Parents care…and compare. Standing ovations for youth performances, a sort of bragging en masse, is also on the rise.

A few years ago, at the end of my son’s moving up program at his primarily privileged-children-filled elementary school, several parents gave the students a standing ovation while I sat, dumbstruck, wondering what would compel them to reward kids for doing exactly what we should expect them to do, given the circumstances of their birth and upbringing. This has happened several times since, notably at the end of the same students’ moving up to high school program. And while we used to recognize high school graduation only, we’ve since piled on the pomp: kindergarten, elementary school and middle. At the culmination of their K-12 education, Mom and Dad really have something to crow about: the colleges to which Junior is accepted. Four years later, it’s his graduation from (fill in prestigious name) college and the amazing job in his Superior Field of Study that Superior Company has offered him!

Back to School means back to bragging. Run into an acquaintance with whom you haven’t interacted all summer and you’ll likely hear about her child’s amazing accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong, “Ask (about her children) and it will be given to you (the accomplishment list).” Whatever happened to humility? Don’t get me wrong, I welcome my friends’ shares about their family’s and own lives. And I assume they welcome mine. It’s the bragging to acquaintances that Facebook has made famous that rubs me the wrong way.

Note to Braggart: The fact that your child has achieved at a high level in sports or academics does not impress me. More importantly:

  • Is he kind?
  • Does he have integrity?
  • Good manners?
  • Would he or she stick up for a student being bullied?
  • How about speak out against intolerance shown by one of his or her peers?

As I send my coddled, cajoled and given-every-opportunity teenage kids off to another year of public school with his and her peers, many of whom have enjoyed a similarly privileged upbringing, I’d like my and others’ kids to know something that David McCullough, Jr., a Wellesley High School teacher, expressed eloquently in his commencement speech to a group of high school graduates.

You Are Not Special (Watch the video but skip the book). If parents spent less time bragging about their kids and more time modeling behaviors that help them gain integrity, it might stem the tide on today’s youth’s rising sense of entitlement.

Fast forward to 2020 during the Coronavirus quarantine that leads to K-12 and college education online. Students are forced to change their ways of learning and…sacrifice: social interactions, sports, study abroad programs, commencements and other celebrations. The sacrifices are not only inconvenient, they are disappointing and upsetting.

In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcom Gladwell, “challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.” The key to a good outcome after setbacks like the one we’re living right now, is to survive, learn something from it (like a workaround) and hopefully end up better than before. There is a lot of bad associated with the modified lives of those trying to help prevent the spread of this disease through social and physical distancing. Maybe the sacrifices being made will lead to better outcomes for students who go through this. We’ll see.

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