Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exclusion and children

Here's something to think about. If anything this article should get your thinks thinking, particularly if you are a parent.

Should we let kids feel exclusion's sting?
Wednesday, August 9, 2006; Posted: 10:37 a.m. EDT
(14:37 GMT)

(AP) -- 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."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights
reserved.This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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