Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Lies grownups tell children

There are two general types of lies grownups tell children.  There are the type that are supposed to be for fun,* and others are supposed to be helpful.**  The fun ones are easy: the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause...things like that.  



"Good job!" when there was patently nothing good about it.  Kids believe grown ups.  And if their fuck-up is a "good job," then obviously being a fuck-up is okay, right?  

Wrong.  Fucking up and being a fuck up is not okay.  It'll ruin their life if they fuck up in the wrong way or at the wrong time.  Could even kill them.  

"You tried, and that's all that matters."  This one implies that actually persisting, and finally succeeding, doesn't matter at all.   

It also implies that the kid actually tried.  Kids know better.  I knew better.  And that taught me that snowing others about my level of effort was easy.  And got the same amount of praise as the kid that busted their ass and still failed because they had no ability.  I can't speak for other kids who were capable of success, but I decided to not bother, since nobody else could tell the difference.  And that...grew into a habit. 

"You're special and fine the way you are."  

Oh, dear God, what I could say about that one.  Yeah, let's take that in pieces.  

"You're special."  Special doesn't necessarily mean good at anything.  Or capable.  Or useful, even to one's own self.  Among kids, "special" has become an insult, meaning "stupid" or "useless."  

Believing that you're "special" in ways that others aren't leads to bad things, too: finding out that you're not and totally shattering because your belief system depends on the fact that you are (at best), all the way to toxic narcissism at worst.

"You're fine the way you are."  

Uh.  No.  Really, not.  Not a single one of us is fine just the way we are.  That lie is what gets kids to not strive to improve.  To not try to get better at whatever it is they want to do.  That is the lie that leads to someone in their 40s screeching for $15/hour minimum wage, because that's the only jobs they're qualified to do.  And those jobs were never meant for adults.  

"Follow your heart."  

Don't.  Your heart is stupid.  Learn to think, and to think clearly.  If your heart screams for music, but you can't sing, can't play anything with anything other than technical competence, can't write music, you can't make a living at it.  You can keep it as a hobby.  You can enjoy others' gifts.  But you cannot do music for a living.  

If you have to do something involved with music...learn how to do staging.  Learn how to build equipment.  Learn the technical side.  No, you won't ever be famous, but you can make a damn good living doing the stuff musicians either can't do, or can't do well.  Or that takes time away from honing their craft.  

I love music.  I can (sort of) sing.  I can't read music, can't play.  I don't do the technical stuff.  Never learned more than the minimum necessary to write and/or teach writing on computers.   But I do love music, and I enjoy the hell out of other people's gifts.  I won't starve because I made the stupid choice of pursuing music despite a near-total lack of talent. 

"Follow your dreams/your passion, and the money will come to you."

Again, bullshit.  This is the same stupid lie as "follow your heart."

My son, for example, loves his Hot Wheels.  He wants to make Hot Wheels.  He doesn't understand why he can't own a Hot Wheels factory and make Hot Wheels in the United States, but the cold fact of the matter is that he can't.   Not because I don't think he can figure out how to own such a factory, but because of the screaming assholes demanding a stupidly high minimum wage because they have no skills.  

Because grownups lied to them when they were small.  

Or sometimes, not so small.  

Kids trust their teachers.  College kids trust their professors.  College professors don't realize how much harm they do when they tell kids "of course the jobs are there--all you need is a degree!"  Maybe the college professors believe it.  Often, though, they know better, and are simply protecting their cushy jobs.  

"Do the degree you love!  The money will follow!" is a flat-out lie, in most cases.  I did the degree I loved, but I had no intention of making a living, much less of becoming rich.  My intention was to be a secondary income.  My intention was to have something where my hours were flexible and I could raise my own kids.  

Most people going for an English degree believe that they'll be able to find a job with that degree...and I know why.  My professors took a lot of pains to point out that an English degree confers skills like critical thinking (nope--never saw that), the ability to understand and use persuasive techniques (did see that, but it wasn't nearly as universally applicable as they implied), and a whole host of other useful things that every employer wants.  

A very close friend of mine got her primary degree in psychology.  She had a plan: she wanted to do counseling, partially because she'd been extensively helped by psychologists.  She didn't know which path to take--a masters' degree in psychology, or one in social work.  The program pushing social work lied to her, outright, with statistics.  The stats checked out; however, the lie was in what they left out.  The social work program told her that she'd get a larger percentage of what her going rates were reimbursed by medicare/medicaid if she went with a master's in social work.  That was true; however, what they left out was that her bottom line would be far lower...because a counselor with a master's in social work wasn't allowed to charge as much as one with a master's in psychology.  

And either one would have qualified her for the student loan forgiveness plan she'd enrolled in, where serving in underserved areas for five years got her student loan debt--all of it, not just her master's degree--written off.  Over the past twelve years, she could have had all of her debt--including her medical debts and her husband's student loan debt--paid off with the difference in income that the master's in psychology would have made.  That's how much believing the wrong person cost her.

Life is hard.  It's even harder if you never learn to spot the lies. 

*Even "fun" lies backfire.  I've been careful to point out exactly where a lot of the myths come from, and that, at one point, Santa Clause was a real person, without telling my kids any lies...or spoiling their fun.  But I've seen kids that find out that their parents lied about one thing (or more) decide that their parents have lied about everything...including things like how addictive drugs, tobacco, and/or alcohol can be (depending on the family lines).  

**No greater harm has been perpetrated upon multiple generations in an attempt to help than the self-esteem movement. 


  1. I was bluntly honest with mine, maybe not the best approach, but I didn't try to hide anything from them.

    1. I try to be kind. If there's nothing constructive to say, I tell them I can see what they were trying to do, but it's going to take a lot of work for them to get it right.

      And then, there's my daughter's drawings from things she's got sitting in front of her...she's better at doing that (at age 10) than I was in high school. And I tell her that. And push her to keep at it. And my son's potential with math is far stronger than mine ever was. And I let him know that, and push him to do even better.