Generation Pansy?

we often hear these days that we’ve produced a generation of young people who can’t get through the day without an award. They expect success because they’re special, not because they’ve worked hard. Is this true? Have we inadvertently done something to hold back our students? Carol Dweck

I read this a while ago and I thought ‘holy shit’. Well at first I bristled and thought ‘bugger off! Bloody old people whinging again’ because I somehow think I’m still young and hip and anything aimed at young people is aimed at me. And then I realised I’m one of the old people now. How the hell did that happen?? I have been known to utter the phrase ‘kids today….’ You know it’s all downhill when that passes your lips.

Anyways, this generational wars crap has been going on for…. Generations. Every generation has copped it form the generation before them. I’m sure my generation (which to be honest I have no freaking idea which one I actually belong to. Y? X? Purple Monkey Dishwasher?) was classed as lazy and spoiled. Young upstarts if you will. Wanting everything to happen yesterday. But I’m sure my parents’ generation were classed as unruly and rude, and the generation before that uncaring and tough. We love to slap on labels, don’t we? And generalise.

perfect kids
True dat.

But. These kids today. Has there been a shift? Have we gone too far in the other direction? Instead of giving tough love, we give love out in bucketfulls. For everything and anything. And we teach kids that everyone’s a winner. But, let’s be honest. They’re not. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have to watch someone do better than us, succeed where we might need to work a bit harder. And now we’re not happy with that.

When I played sports, there were awards at the end of the year. Best and Fairest, MVP all that stuff. And it was given to one child who was voted out of the others and that was that. Sometimes we all got participation trophies, but that one child would then receive the additional trophy on top. And everyone seemed fine with it. But now, all kids are given pats on the head for breathing, trophies and ribbons handed out to all. And if they don’t get it? Well, cue meltdowns and tears. From parents too.

It’s a trend I’ve seen become more apparent in my role. People getting upset and angry if their child isn’t praised and acknowledged x amount of times. Comparing how many times one child gets an award relative to another, and if all children aren’t equally awarded, then that’s cause to unleash a torrent of abuse. And now that my biggest cherub is in school, I’m interested to see it from the other side of the fence (the parent side. Will I become a psycho hose-beast too?).

perfect kids sign
My kinda town.

And there is nothing wrong with praise and acknowledgement. Nothing at all! But perhaps we need to be reviewing what we’re praising and how we’re praising. It shouldn’t become an expectation, it should be recognition at appropriate times. Instead of telling our kids how special and wonderful they are, should we be telling them how great their effort is, and that they are trying their best and that is fantastic? While it sucks balls to see your child upset and to miss out on something, maybe the bigger picture is that it’s healthy and ok for them to not achieve 100% success all the time. Focusing on the effort rather than the end result. We’re not bad people for allowing our children to experience challenges. Because, what is the alternative? What are we setting them up for in the future?


What do you think about this notion of a ‘soft’ generation? Do you think they’re praised and rewarded too much? Or should we stop being hard asses and shower them with pep?

  • As an ex-teacher I think there’s a fine line between being inclusive and wanting to encourage/motivate and over rewarding. I think it’s all well and good to celebrate that we’re each special and we’re each different, but I don’t like this expectation that children should be rewarded and praised. Like you said, life is no walk in the park, and not everyone in life is going to think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, and more to the point, they’ll let you know about it. I think it’s about a balance of high fiving awesomeness but also learning and understanding that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it just won’t be enough!

    • A fine line indeed lovely! Kids need to see that we celebrate special moments, not every moment. That wonderful sense of achievement and consolidation of learning and growth is then lost when we’re just praising everything. They get desensitised to it!! x

  • Really interesting study done a while ago about kids who were praised for things they couldn’t control – ‘being smart’, ‘being talented’, etc – who did less well on 2nd round tests than those who were praised for their hard work, their practice.

    I’m personally trying to get out of the habit of saying ‘good job’ every five minutes.

    • Yes I had read that one! It was fascinating, wasn’t it? Growth mindset ftw! But sadly the message isn’t being promoted very well. And often times many people like to dismiss the research because it doesn’t fit with their world view. Blergh. Ha ha oh I hear you on the ‘good job’ stuff. And ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’. It just rolls off the tongue though! x

  • I can’t really comment on parenting (not being one myself) but I do worry about Gen Ys and Millennials, especially in Australia where they have grown up in during a period of economic prosperity… I do worry how they will cope when Australia finally has another recession… it will happen one day… I’m not sure how they’d cope with the hardship and sacrifices that come with an economic turn-down.

    • Hugzilla

      I often wonder the very same thing, as a crusty old Gen Xer.

    • Brilliant point. I couldn’t agree more. It seems they’re generations who only know the mentality ‘if I want it, I get it’ and such an attitude is progressively reaching younger and younger children. Maybe they’ll end up doing a 180 and becoming total hard arses with their kids? And so the cycle continues. :)

  • Hugzilla

    I absolutely agree. I think that this (over) swing towards positive parenting is a wonderful thing, and a reaction to some of the more dubious parenting practices that we were raised with but I do think it’s gone a bit too far, possibly at the expense of resilience. There’s also that issue of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Do we want our kids to become approval-seeking praise-junkies, or to develop the satisfaction of doing things without an audience and without any feedback, simply because they want to? That is all a total over-simplification I know, but this topic fascinates me.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more lovely. Yes, previous hard-line parenting practices weren’t great. But neither is over-compensating. We’ve moved from one extreme to the other. I have no idea why we can’t seem to find a happy medium. The lack of resilience that I see at work makes me want to vomit. But a lot of the parents demonstrate such a lack of resilience too! I worry that it is becoming an embedded way of life for this generation, and wonder what that means for future generations to come. Problem solving, negotiation, acceptance. They’re all fast becoming extinct. x

  • michelle barrington

    Sasha such a good article. I agree that praising walks hand in hand with fostering resilience in kids. I did a post on how we can help our kids cope with disappointment rather than shelter them from it because I was meeting more and more children who just could.not.cope. I do agree that in the past generations of Australians seemed to have it harder but we live in different times now and the stresses and demands are somewhat more invisible then the living through a depression or a war. Our kids in the future will face different challenges

    • Oh gosh lady, you would’ve seen so much of it too. I find each year it’s getting more and more pronounced- these kids who cannot deal with something going wrong, or managing a difficult situation. They just crumble and use a bit of learned helplessness. We’ve got to set them up to cope in the future! x

  • Couldn’t agree more. How will you ever learn to TRY HARDER if you don’t experience some failure and disappointment in life? There is no motivation to improve if you’re told constantly you’re brilliant. You’re already wonderful – job done!
    I read a study just a couple of weeks ago that said smart kids are the kids who value effort over achievement. They’re the ones who are willing to try the hard tasks because they like a challenge. But the kids who only want to be praised, will only ever try the easy tasks because they know they’ll be able to do it.
    I want a kid who isn’t afraid to fail. Who is willing to try really really hard and maybe stuff it up now and then, but occasionally succeed. And how much sweeter that success will be when he knows he’s really earned it. I will be teaching him to lose with grace and not be defeated, just to pick himself up and try harder next time. I think his self confidence would be SO much better, knowing that he deserves the praise, than if he simply got it for doing nothing.

    • It’s the one thing I always tell the kidlets I work with. Mistakes are GOOD. They help us to grow and learn. It’s ok to fuck things up (well I don’t quite say that to eight year olds…. but it’d be kinda funny if I did). How do you ever get better if you don’t get something wrong? It’s crazy how many expect themselves to be the best 100% of the time and when it doesn’t pan out they crumble. We somehow have to teach parents that the little hardships of youth will actually pave the way for a strong and resilient human in the years to come. x

  • Oh sweet Jesus! Kids today need a swift kick up the arse. Or maybe it’s the parents…

    Not everyone is a winner. Not everyone has to be your friend. Not everyone gets to be a school leader. Not everyone gets to be the goal kicker in footy. You don’t need to be applauded or rewarded every single time you do something. Sometimes a simle ” good job mate” is all that is needed n

    Life is not always easy & as parents we need to teach our kids how to deal with heartache & disappointment. And the way to deal with that is not to blame other people or to go out & buy them something to cheer them up! We need to teach them resilience & how to work hard to achieve their best. They need to understand that their best may not be THE best & that is OK!

    • Omg THE PARENTS. Let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Kids get such an air of expectation and attitude because of what has been said to them, or demonstrated by adults. Resilience is the key! x

  • Sara Brewster

    Oh Doc – I had to laugh at the bit “Well at first I bristled and thought ‘bugger off! Bloody old people whinging again’ because I somehow think I’m still young and hip and anything aimed at young people is aimed at me. And then I realised I’m one of the old people now. ” because I do the EXACT same thing! haha My 16 year old brain really has to catch up with my 34 year old body 😉 great article too – lots of good points to chew over for the time when I become a mamma – thanks Doc! xxoo

    • Holy shit lady, we aren’t 21 anymore?? When the fuck did this happen??? I can see myself embarrassing the girls really well in years to come, thinking I’m still young and shit. x

  • I too often think about this hun. Pass the parcel where everyone gets a prize. In my day (look at me generation I have no idea what) there was one prize and one prize only. I think we need to pull back on the awards a little as the kids have no resilience to losing. Give the the love and encouragement out by the bucketload full but slow down on the everyone is a winner concept. Great post hun xx

    • Omg I know, right?? The amount of parties I’ve been to lately where everyone gets a prize. Then the other week we went to a party where it was a ‘traditional pass the parcel, and I was relieved! When my youngest cherub came up to me and said “I didn’t win a prize” I just said to her “oh well, you had fun and not everyone wins a prize” And you know what? She coped! What a shock! I don’t think we give our kids enough credit these days to cope! Thanks lovely, I always get chuffed to have you comment! xx

  • I think being rewarded for nothing is pointless. But, that said, there is always something you can praise (without necessarily having a ribbon or trophy attached). Effort. Dedication. Approach (something didn’t work and they tried another way? Great!).

    • So true! Praising for effort is so important, but somehow that got lost along the way. But we also need to instill in kids a sense of intrinsic pride, that they don’t need to rely on others telling them they’re good, or fancy rewards, to feel accomplished. Hopefully we can turn the tides. x

  • AllisonTaitWriter

    When everyone is special, no-one is special. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, all I know is that when you grow up, there’s usually one prize and lots and lots of people miss out. If you’ve never had practise with that, I don’t know how you cope?

    • That’s a great line- when everyone is special, no one is special. I think we all seem to focus so much on being ‘special’ having something ‘special’ to us, that we can’t cope with just being us and being happy with the good and the bad that make us, us. I think in years to come a lack of resilience will be crippling for this generation. x

  • There’s that old-fashioned word molly-coddled and I think too many parents are doing this to their kids. Praise for effort, love just because, and then realistic assessment of achievement is the only way to build resilience – acknowledging failure and the lessons that be learned and then gentle encouragement. It is hard though because the softy, softly, reward-everyone approach is so pervasive and I get the mean Mum tag for tough love.

    • Yes! molly-coddled! That’s it- describes it to a ‘T’. It’s a hard thing to try to explain to parents to praise for effort. I think we’re all just so ingrained to say ‘good boy’ and ‘you’re so clever’ etc. Mean Mum tag= healthy, well-adjusted kids down the track. Which in my books is an awesome Mum. x

  • Great post Dr Sash. As a parent it’s such a challenge to not over praise but our kids need a good dose of the real world too! So hard to find that magic balance. Xx

    • It is a hard balance to strike, isn’t it? But I find, if I feel guilty for not going all gushy on the cherubs for every single thing, I remind myself that 10 years down the track they’re going to cope with the ups and downs of life much much better. x