“He hurt my feelings” is a common refrain I hear on the daily. After investigation, it usually turns out to be that one of the kids didn’t want to play with the other because, well, they just didn’t want to. Now for the catch-22: if I tell them to get over it and play by themselves for a while, then I’m all of a sudden being mean. On the other hand, if I embrace them and let them know that everything will be all right, I’m reinforcing the mindset that someone preferring to do something other than exactly what they want to do is worthy of hurt feelings. It’s not. In fact, that sort of egocentric thinking could lead to them growing up to be one of the worst things our children can become: an asshole.
Raising a child has always been a complicated matter. Just achieving the goal of keeping them alive is a pure miracle. And we’ve come a long way in terms of understanding the impact of our actions as parents. Physical punishment, which was the standard up until the 80s, is problematic for a number of reasons, and probably led to the proliferation of therapy. Verbal punishment in the form of berating and belittling has much the same negative psychological impact without the physical scars as a reminder. Each of these caused irreparable damage in children’s psyches. Still, people emerged with a toughness and resolve that I’m not quite sure current children will ever have.
I am absolutely not advocating to bring back corporal punishment, nor do I think that a child’s tears are catastrophic, but for the love of everything that is sacred, can we not cry about being asked to change clothes, brush teeth, clean up juice box wrappers, having to watch the 2003 version of Freaky Friday rather than the newer one that is a musical even though I don’t really want to watch either and am trying to compromise (sorry, some wounds are fresher than others), losing a shoe, being asked if the shoes had wings and were able to fly away, and other equally banal areas of conflict?
Much like everything else our children say and do, this behavior comes from us. Maybe not you and me specifically, but our society in general. From schools, and television, and current events. From the internet. Definitely from the internet. I’m all for taking Kevin Spacey off of that dumb-ass show because he admitted to sexually abusing a child, but I’m not about boycotting Horrible Bosses because he’s in it. It’s a hilarious movie that makes me feel good when I watch it, and I’m not about to feel some shame because of something awful someone else did.
To take it a step further, when we were watching the 2003 Freaky Friday (yeah, I won that round), my eyes bulged a little when Lindsay Lohan tells Jamie Lee Curtis that she will kill herself if her door isn’t put back on its hinges. Woah, trivializing suicide was apparently fine for a 2003 PG rated movie, but that wouldn’t make it past the first draft today. And it shouldn’t. And yet we are so scared to talk about any of these topics lest we get cancelled. This is a gigantic problem. People used to be afraid to reach out for help because they felt shame about mental health issues, but if we don’t have discussions about such topics, our children will grow up not even knowing they are common issues that have resources.
We’ve gone so far in the other direction that our children are going to grow up naïve. They won’t be able to stand up to bullies, even if it’s just with their words, because they’ll be too busy crying about their hurt feelings. They’ll be afraid to take risks because they don’t have the tools to survive failure of any kind. Or worse, they’ll take ill-advised risks because they’ll think someone will be there to clean up their messes. As parents, we have to toughen up. Scraped knees can be walked off and harsh words can be brushed off. Love your children by preparing them for the harsh realities of the real world.