Recently a group of moms I know were complaining that they couldn’t find any kids’ t-shirts in the stores that didn’t have obnoxious slogans like “Awesome!” and “I’m the Man!,” “Like a Boss,” and “Love your Selfie” emblazoned unapologetically on the front. They told me that their kids don’t need additional reasons to love themselves and that most need a reality check because they’re not that special to anyone but their parents.
The parenting trend of building self-esteem has taken a dark turn in recent years. Studies show that we are raising narcissists, with all this unwarranted praise creating a sense of entitlement in children. But even the ones who deserve praise for their accomplishments can be ruined by too much of the stuff as is evidenced by the great fall of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who not only lost her title on Saturday night, but also lost many fans who admired her.
My daughters are in jiu jitsu and MMA (mixed martial arts) for self-defense, exercise, and competition (mostly, I want them to be able to tie an attacker in a knot and get away without a scratch). As a jiu jitsu family, we follow the sport and Rousey has always been a favorite of ours. But her recent behavior, especially leading up to the fight she lost against Holly Holm, left a lot to be desired. These are not the words of a champion, but of a spoiled little girl who needs a spanking (which Holm happily gave her Saturday night in the form of a head-kick knockout). As Rousey described it:
As if the social-media trash-talk wasn’t enough, Rousey caused an embarrassing scene at the weigh-in, acting like she was going to attack Holm and instigating a shoving match. This behavior is a direct result of Rousey surrounding herself with people who won’t tell her that she’s not that special, that she is not unbeatable, and that she needs to stop talking and keep training. After all, it was the training and hard work that got her to the top, not running her mouth and ego-stroking. (Meanwhile, Holly Holm was busy working on that killer kick.)
For some reason, many parents are following this ego-inflating model with their children. They are buying their children t-shirts with self-congratulatory messages and encouraging attitudes of superiority because of their little athletes’ talents at some game or another. It’s one thing to be confident, but it is entirely unacceptable to throw sportsmanship out the window for the sake of self-love. Any athlete who behaves that way, regardless of talent, is a loser, no matter what the record says. Allowing your child to think too highly of himself is setting him up for a spectacular fall that he won’t be able to handle when he inevitably fails at some point.
My husband and I allowed our oldest daughter to stay up for Rousey’s fight. Like her parents, she was expecting and rooting for a Rousey win. The minute Rousey refused to participate in the the tradition of touching gloves with Holm (signaling a lack of respect for her opponent) my daughter was outraged. It was the last straw. We all switched allegiances instantly and took great pleasure in watching Rousey get what was coming to her. So far, Holly Holm has been a gracious winner and I hope she remains a good example of sportsmanship for all the young people who will be watching her closely. Even though Rousey showed nothing but disrespect for her, Holm had nothing bad to say and even went to check on Rousey after the knockout, initiating a hug. Winning.
MMA and jiu jitsu are tough sports that require immense physical exertion and dedication. It’s hard to get on that mat (I know because my daughter made me do it) and have your personal space totally invaded while trying not to get choked out. It’s rough. Anyone who does it has gone through intense training and pain and deserves respect. Ronda Rousey may have dominated her sport as a superior competitor, but her attitude made her a loser and I hope she works on that and comes back humbled. A true winner is gracious and respectful.
Parents need to know that they have no hope of raising gracious or respectful children if they continue to overpraise them and inflate their opinions of themselves…even for good reasons. Your son might be the best at football. Remind him that he has work to do on his character. Your daughter might be the best dancer in the state. Remind her that her dancing skills don’t make her a good person. Character is what counts.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1