By John R. Morella, Ph.D.
David McCullough, a veteran educator,delivered a commencement address to a graduating high school class recently that has received much attention in the social media. He told them, “You are not special.” WOW! What needed to be said, was said, and as a psychologist who counseled with children and teens over several generations, I want to echo Mr. McCullough’s viewpoints and add my opinions to this theme. While you were parented to believe you are special, you really haven’t earn that entitlement, and it’s time to deal with your over-inflated ego that may be deflated when you experience the world outside your parental cocoon.
I have listened to Mr. McCullough’s video, and I can say without reservation, I appreciate him stating so well what I have been thinking for years, years gained through counseling hundreds of families in my twenty-plus years as a psychologist: “kids you are not special,” at least not yet!
It is true, we want our children to be given the message that are loved, valued and all God’s children are special. We want to give our children repeated messages that they are unique, one of a kind and protect them from events and experiences that might “harm” their self-image or self-concept development. So perhaps we as parents, fight their battles for them, make excuses for their failures, blame others for not seeing the “specialness” of our kids and remind them too frequently, “you are special.”
What comes out of this parenting theme? Our children begin to believe that no matter how they behave, or do not achieve anything of any real value, they are entitled and special. This type of parent behavior, while well intended, is not healthy for our youth. It leads to an inflated ego, a sense of entitlement and an arrogance that will cause our children to make major adjustments to the real world of how other people will see and evaluate them.
No matter how wonderful we think our kids are and no matter how many times we tell them “you are wonderful and special,” we may be doing them a disservice. Why? Because other people will evaluate them on their self-discipline, hard work, dedication to a task and their real achievements. Mom and Dad will not be there to shield them, cover for them, rationalize their shortcoming and blame others for their failures. If they have no practice in viewing themselves as non-special, they will become easily discouraged, quick to blame others (as they were taught) and not accept responsibilities for their short-comings. They will come to know that “you are special” was really an illusion and that the real world, full of non-parents, will expose that illusion.
It’s time that Mr. McCullough’s message to our youth be spread across the information highway. As a psychologist who has seen the consequence of our youth believing they were special, and then finding out it is not true, I applaud his speech. Now it’s time to act upon his wise words.
Retired psychologist and academician with thirty-five years of experience working with children, teens, and their families. Currently, author of two nonfiction books written for the layperson; A Guide for Effective Psychotherapy (a consumer’s guide for understanding mental health services) and Give Teens a Break! (a positive look at teens). My passion remains the same, the growth and mental welfare of our children. Please visit my website: http://www.johnmorella.com