During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.
Life Is Hard and Then You Die!
When my son sat at the kitchen table, moaning and groaning about finals rather than studying, I proclaimed these demoralizing words from my childhood: “Life is hard and then you die!” My father always said that to me during trying times when I was growing up and I always hated it. I wanted encouragement, comfort, and support but got that cliché instead, leaving me sad and defeated like nobody cared. Now, I just wanted to kick myself for saying the same old stupid thing to my own kid when he was feeling down.
No matter how hard we try to leave the annoying things our parents said to us in the past, they're bound to come up from time to time. This is especially true when we moms and dads are tired, stressed, and overworked. We don't think before we speak. We don't listen to what our kids are really saying, and we don't empathize with their feelings. To get real with our youngsters and communicate effectively with them, we should surely retire these 15 parental clichés:
1. You can grow up to be anything you want!
Parents love to say this, thinking it gives their children confidence and lets them dream big. But what happens when the kids are grown and faced with the realities of the world? They're not tall enough to play professional basketball, don't have the facial bone structure to model, or don't possess the mathematical aptitude to become an engineer. Parents know their kids better than anyone else. They should take the time to talk with them about their strengths and weaknesses and what those mean for opportunities in the real world.
2. Don't be a quitter!
After competing on a swim team for five years, my teenage son decided to hang up his Speedo to devote more time to his high school studies. My mother lamented, “Oh, I sure hate to see him quit!” Contrary to what many parents believe, dropping activities is not necessarily a bad thing. Young children need to try lots of things until they find what best suits them. Older kids such as my son need the freedom to decide for themselves what extracurricular activities they can and cannot handle. Helicopter moms and dads need to step back and let their kids take the reins.
3. Beauty is only skin deep.
If you want to convince kids you're totally clueless about what's happening in the world today, then downplay the importance of looks. Our society esteems physical attractiveness and our youngsters know it better than we do. Studies show good-looking people are considered more intelligent, earn more, and are more likely to get hired. Ours is a visual world with Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, selfies, and the Kardashians all proof of that. Yes, parents should urge their kids to become honest, hard-working, kind people but also be willing to honestly discuss how beauty makes an impact.
4. Honesty is the best policy.
When our kids are little, we need to keep things simple for their developmental level. At this stage, we encourage them to tell the truth but let their imaginations flourish. As they mature, however, we need to appreciate their ability to handle more sophisticated concepts. Preteens and teens know that speaking the truth will often hurt feelings and leave them friendless. Saying to someone, “you could stand to lose 15 pounds” or “your breath smells horrible” is rude, insensitive and shouldn't be said unless you have an unusually close relationship.
5. God only gives you what you can handle.
Growing up in a religious household, I heard this one a lot. When I was a teenager struggling with depression and anxiety, I realized it simply wasn't true. At times our kids do have more than they can deal with on their own—academic stresses, breakups, friendship woes, and worries about their uncertain futures. They need clued-in parents to spot the signs of depression—loss of interest in activities, fatigue, irritability, alcohol, drugs—and help them cope more effectively.
6. Good things happen to good people.
Well, unfortunately, most of us know this is not always the case. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Kids see this all around them—with celebrities, sports figures, politicians, business people, family members and friends. Children should develop into good people because it's the right thing to do, not because they expect some reward.
7. Time heals all wounds.
Time is just the passage of minutes, hours, days, and months. It has no magical healing powers by itself. Healing one's self from a traumatic event takes concrete steps—meditation, therapy, journaling, exercise, talking. Parents need to teach kids how to find peace and comfort without resorting to alcohol and drugs.
8. You can't have too many friends!
Friendship has reached a new level of superficiality with Facebook. Young people now have hundreds and even thousands of so-called “friends” on-line but are more depressed and anxious than ever. Parents need to teach kids that two or three true friends are far more important than all the fake on-line friends in the world. Parents can be good role models by spending time with their own friends and decreasing or eliminating their time on social media.
9. Be careful not to make mistakes!
There's more and more research that shows making mistakes is essential to learning and eventually succeeding. We need to teach our children to embrace their mistakes, not fear them. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, encourages his employees to try new things without worrying whether they'll work. He tells them: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
10. Some day your prince/princess will come.
Our kids deserve to know there is no prince/ princess, soul-mate, or "the right one" out there in the world to be found. They need to know that there are many people who have the qualities to become their partners. Before getting ready to find someone, however, they first must develop their own beliefs, passions, and interests.
11. Follow your passion!
While this isn't bad advice, it needs an addendum. While children should pursue what lights their fire, they should know that it may not become their career. My teenage son loves acting, but less than 2% of those in the Screen Actors' Guild make a living from it. I urge him to make acting a part of his life but not necessarily the part that earns him money and keeps a roof over his head.
12. Follow your heart!
While this sounds poetic, it's not sage advice. Parents should instruct their children to use their intellect, not their feelings, when making decisions. Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., says that following one's "primal urgings," not their brain, often results in bad choices with long-term consequences. When having a bad day at work, we've all imagined saying to the boss, "take this job and shove it" but the next day are grateful we didn't.
13. Respect your elders.
Parents today should add to this old expression: “if they're deserving of it.” Blind respect for authority has led to children getting molested, kidnapped, and abused. When I was a child, our school principal grabbed me by the upper arm and pulled me down the hall. I told my mother, and she did nothing. Our children need to know that they should come to us if an adult treats them poorly and we'll handle the situation.
14. Happiness is all I want for you.
Putting too much emphasis on our children's happiness gives them unrealistic expectations. While we experiences glimpses of happiness in our lives, we're usually having a host of other more subtle but complex feelings: disappointment, anger, fear, contentment, sadness. Finding a constant state of happiness in life is unattainable but finding purpose in life is satisfying.
15. You were the best one out there on the court/field/stage!
Over-the-top compliments like this hurt our kids. While parents think they're being encouraging, they're actually making their kids feel insecure by comparing them to their peers. They get the wrong message that personal triumph is more important than the achievement of the group.
A Terrific Book About Talking to Our Kids, Listening, and Accepting
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 McKenna Meyers