Jeff Ward: Dealing With PDCES (Parent-Driven Child-Entitlement Syndrome)

Like a paycheck, praise should be earned!

I started seeing it the first season I coached rec soccer.

We had a particularly disruptive player on the team, so the assistant coaches and I asked for a parent's help, hoping he'd encourage his son to be more of a team player. Instead of offering support, the father started yelling at me. His son apparently told him I'd sworn at him, and even though the two assistants testified that was patently false, it made no difference. There was no way to convince him that the coaches might be the good guys and the child might be behaving badly. He just kept repeating, “My son doesn’t lie.”

Coaching travel soccer? That’s even more extreme. There are very few post-40 endeavors for which I haven’t been prepared, but coaching a travel soccer team is certainly one of them. Some parents simply fail to appreciate the concept that, at that level, playing time is earned.

Generally ascribing to the notion that there’s always someone worse off than me, as I pondered my self-inflicted fate, it hit me like a ton of bricks. If I’m facing this phenomenon with 16 boys on a part-time soccer team, imagine what it must be like to be a teacher!

And since I found this phenomenon so fascinating, I’ve spent the last two months talking to 30 principals, teachers, administrators, counselors and education consultants from the elementary to the high school level in a variety of Patchland school districts.

With the exception of the elementary-school folks, they all said the same thing. This parent-driven, childhood-entitlement mentality is worse than it’s ever been. One counselor told me that over the past two years, “The number and tone of these ‘my child is never wrong’ conflagrations has gotten exponentially worse.”

One middle school principal said it’s gotten to the point where he dreads making the required disciplinary phone calls. He described a loin-girding warm up consisting of deep breaths and the mental preparation necessary to fend off the impending onslaught which often includes four-letter-word-laced tirades.

And after they hang up on him, they immediately go over his head to the superintendent. I’m starting to think we don’t pay our principals nearly enough.

Then I asked another counselor for her thoughts on handling parents who refuse to support the school in any way. She said she lays out clearly written expectations, sticks to the pre-prescribed consequences, tries to keep the lines of communication open, and approaches these tenuous situations as unemotionally as possible.

And what does she get for her efforts? Irate parents who insist upon being assigned a new caseworker, go over her head to the dean and then the principal, and when that fails, threaten a lawsuit.

Apparently, we don’t pay our guidance counselors nearly enough, either.

Then I made the mistake of asking a middle school teacher what parent/teacher conferences were like. She told me they’re taught to put a positive spin on everything. Even if a student is so disrespectful that a 1960s nun would have beaten them with a yardstick, they try to lead with something positive. Only then do they make an attempt to address the real issues.

This absurd “everything must be positive” mentality can be traced back to that '70s self-esteem movement that started in California and, like a modern-day plague, rapidly engulfed the entire nation. It culminated in that state’s legislature actually forming a formal task force to promote self-esteem in schools.

But what those addle-brained politicians who bought into this collective delusion failed to see is, while external sources can certainly affect self-esteem, self-esteem can never come from an external source. Even the most difficult child implicitly understands that acclaim without strings attached is generally worthless.

To get a better handle on this dynamic, I turned to a retired teacher, program administrator and current education consultant. She agreed that children do, indeed, immediately recognize false praise and, if it becomes chronic, it has two long-term effects.

The first, as it is with any effort to fill an inner void with a surface balm, creates a hyperactive need for even more praise. It becomes like any other addiction which will get to the point where the child can no longer deal with frustration of any kind.

The second adverse effect is this false praise instills a paralyzing fear of success. Because these children know they’ve have done nothing to earn it, they begin to fear that any future move will ultimately disappoint their parents and teachers, so they get C's and D's which leads to more “go get ‘em” praise, and then more C's and D's.

Then the parents, so terrified of someone toppling the house of cards they’ve so carefully built, become enablers by doing anything to protect that illusion. But as it is with all mirages, they eventually fade in the light of harsh reality.

Our first counselor also told me elementary and middle schools are geared toward student success. In fact, she said “everyone makes the honor roll in middle school.” But when they get to high school, for the first time in their academic lives, the process is geared toward real-world success.

So when these kids hit that difficult freshman year and their grades tank, the school gets frantic calls from parents who “can’t understand why their child is getting C's and D's, because they’ve never gotten those grades before.”

Even worse, she described a scenario where students who’ve heard nothing but praise their entire lives suddenly have the truth slap them in the face in the form of those senior-year college-aptitude test scores.

And when their parents can no longer protect them from the realization that they won’t be getting into that high-end college and a medical career is no longer a possibility “they fall into a deep and disturbing depression.”

I’m not saying we need to hammer our children from Day One, but the only way parents and schools can prepare them for the day that reality inevitably dawns is by providing a more reasonable and honest ongoing assessment of their skills and effort.

Because if we don’t, then we truly are “damning them with faint praise.”

Chad D. Walz November 18, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Jeff you are a tool and I am sad that we have American's who think as you do. I am moving to Texas!! IL is a bunch of loonies.
Jeff Ward November 18, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Chad, I'll pay for the truck! Jeff
Jeff Ward November 18, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Paul, I have to say that 90 percent of the teachers I've dealt with over the past 9 years have been phenomenal. Had you told me that 10 years ago I would've told your wife to lock up the liquor cabinet. We know there's bad apples in any profession, but I've been very pleasantly surprised with our school district. Jeff
Laurie November 18, 2011 at 10:01 PM
Jeff, I actually agreed with you until "Now now! I think the column better describes Republican elected officials, tea partiers and the 1 percent!" I know plenty of liberal parents who never taught their kids right from wrong in order not to mar their self-esteem. Some are in jail while others have no sense of responsibility to themselves or society. Stating that the column reflects more conservative raised children is biased and simply ridiculous.
Laurie November 18, 2011 at 10:06 PM
I agree Angela. I agreed with Jeff until I started reading some of his comments. Pathetic that some of the lucky ones get to push their political agenda on others through media outlets. I'll bet Jeff prides himself on "acceptance" and "tolerance" as well.
Jim Hankes November 18, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Someone please tell me why people think that if there's an s at the end of a word, you must put an apostrophe in front of it? Otherwise, I'm wondering what do American's possess in the above statement?
Dennis C. Ryan November 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Since everyone else has chimed in, I will, too. From what I have seen over the past thirty years, some parents have given up RAISING their kids to become "PALS" with them ("No discipline, because my child might not 'like' me anymore!" ) The kids run wild, and everyone else is expected to tolerate it while suffering with it. I think some of these parents never really wanted kids. I think they had them for the same reason they "just had to have" a new Mercedes or Lexus: because their friends or neighbors had one and they did not want to feel "left out." They expect the teachers to raise the kids for them, but their guilt complex surfaces when the kid faces school discipline for being disruptive or violent. Thus, the problem automatically becomes everyone else's fault.
JP November 18, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Hear, Hear Angela. This is not a political problem at all as there are parents across the political spectrum who are able to raise responsible, respectful kids but when you can only view the world through a political lens every thing is tainted by your viewpoint. Some people get locked into their political viewpoints and never waver from their convictions, unable to even acknowledge that the other side might have a valid view point . As my english granny used to say "don't confuse me with the facts, I vote Labor" The funny thing is that as I have read more of Jeff's column's I am noting a hint of conservatism in him. I bet if he really sat down and thought long and hard, he might find that he has a lot in common with some conservatives out there. He might just need to open up his mind a little. Not everything in life is black and white after all.
JP November 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM
I have another theory. After watching children's sports for many years now I have determined that many parents seem to think that their child's success' are the parent's success and their child's failures are the coaches. Their child could not possibly be not perfect because that would reflect poorly upon them and their parenting. Therefore, if someone like a teacher or a coach needs to discuss poor behaviour with the parent, said parent will cast about for a scapegoat because it would reflect poorly on them if their child really was a screwup. They search about for anyone to blame their kids poor behaviour on because they are, you know, perfect themselves. They couldn't possibly be screwing up parenting you know. I believe this all ties back to the self esteem push that started about 30+ years ago in school.
JP November 19, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Jeff I hope that comment was tongue in cheek otherwise I feel very, very sorry for you that you carry so much hate for so many people in your heart.
Ann November 19, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Although I'm very liberal, I disagree that conservatives "are the worst." For the most part this is a non-political issue, but I have noticed that on the contrary, a lot of young kids with conservative parents behave more politely and show more respect than kids of liberals. I think it has something to do with conservative (and Christian) values, such as respect for authority figures and a desire to conform (ex., Chad calling liberals "whacky"). On the other hand, liberals tend to value creativity, originality, and the questioning authority and the status quo. Although I've noticed that the well-disciplined kids with conservative parents sometimes are easier to deal with, they tend to be more rebellious as they get older, and are often the school-bully. Liberal's kids are often more interesting (whacky?), mature, and creative as they get older. Wouldn't it be nice if we can meet somewhere in the middle with both our child-raising and our politics?
Pat November 19, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Well thank you Jeff. We conservative Christian republicans are always forthright
Patty Wagner November 19, 2011 at 03:39 AM
I have to say that, as a parent who really wants to encourage my children to work to the best of their abilities, the way things are set up today, particularly for academics, doesn't help me at all. Gone are the days of A, B, C, D, F. As it stands now, my children will not see any of those letters, except the occasional A, until high school. Right now, our District used "Standards Based Report Cards" and my children get either A: Advanced Meeting of the Standard, M: Meets the Standard, P: Progressing Toward Meeting the Standard, or NM: Not Meeting the Standard. All the way through 8th grade! Here's the rub. Take Math; you can only get an "A" if you earn a 99 or 100% on the Standard. You earn an "M" for 85 - 98%". You earn a "P" for 66% to 84% and an NM for anything below that. That means, to me, that you can go all the way from a solid/high A to a solid/middling B and get the same grade. You can earn a middle B through - in my day - a failing grade, and get a P. Already, in 3rd grade, my child realizes that what's required is perfection - for an A - or if not, she can work her hardest and get an M, or she can rush through and make several careless errors and get . . . an M. Or even more frustrating to me, she can get the equivalent of an 84% and her report card reflects the same grade as someone else who got a 68%. Maybe it's my problem and not hers, since she doesn't know anything different, but I can't stand it. There's no "job well done" reward anymore.
Laura Sakas November 19, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Love the title of the article. It sums up the way many children are raised today. When I was young and in school, I knew that if I got in trouble in school, the punishment at home would be much worse. Through the years, I have attended my son's parent teacher conferences bracing myself for the "positive" remarks. I know my kid is a nice kid, a joy to have in class, has a great sense of humor......get to the point. How is he doing in class and what can he do to improve? My son opens doors for people, thanks those who help him out and is respectful of authority. It was my responsibility as a parent to teach him to do that. I do not expect teachers/administrators to teach him those values. I do expect them to build upon them by giving him the knowledge he will need to be successful in this world. Real knowledge, not false praise.
Chad D. Walz November 19, 2011 at 05:45 AM
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100912195233AAEj4n5 There are many acceptable forms of plurality for American. Thanks for the English lesson Jim.
Chad D. Walz November 19, 2011 at 05:46 AM
So a liberal makes my point for me. Thank you. BTW...I am the Rush Limbaugh of the Patch so I don't count! LOL
Kelly H November 19, 2011 at 09:03 AM
This comment sounds more like a personal attack, though maybe it wasn't intended to be... Why include this guidance counselor's name to make it so personal? Her pay is related to the fact that she has at least a master's degree and 20 + years of experience in education. This salary is commensurate with most other districts in the Chicago suburbs for the same education and experience levels. That's her market value. I can understand if you don't agree with the way the teaching market works, but don't blame individual educators!
Kelly H November 19, 2011 at 09:23 AM
For the record here, Paul, there are (so far as I can tell) zero educators on this board "whining" about their salaries. Some well-meaning political activists do it for us. And perhaps the spin some media and political groups have put on recent issues in Illinois about pensions have made it sound like teachers as a whole are complaining about salary. But as an educator who spends a lot of time with other educators, I can tell you that salary's not a regular topic of discussion in our area. (Just a side note: Your retirement is also social security, no? Teachers do not contribute to or receive SS. They contribute to pensions just like you do to your 401k. But that's a whole different topic.)
Kelly H November 19, 2011 at 09:37 AM
There was a great article written for Newsweek in 2004 titled "The Power of No." It explores the reasons why parents want to be friends with their kids now more than ever and how that affects the kids' values. Really interesting read. I've found it so true through my experiences teaching in more affluent communities. Here's the link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2004/09/12/the-power-of-no.html
Kelly H November 19, 2011 at 09:39 AM
Well said, Ann! Very true. Last sentence is the best. :)
Paul November 19, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Kelly, I have seen the salaries of teachers that are available on a website, and follow the news, patch, local media outlaets, etc etc. Teachers whine about there pay. Maybe some do not. Anyway, back to the subject at hand about kids and schools. Oh, chad, I will help jeff pay for your ride to texas. The only decent politician to ever come out of that state chad was a democrat. LBJ!!! Chad, I have read your comments on other subjects on patch, Texas needs you. Please go.
Jeff Ward November 19, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Pat, Let's just keep this between you and me (please don't tell the rest of my readers), but sometimes, given the self-righteous comments of some conservative readers (see Chad), I like to tweak 'em a little bit. I actually do understand that PDCES affects both ends of the political spectrum, but it's kind of fun to say something a little outrageous to them and watch them howl. Jeff
Nora November 19, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Looks like Patch needs a lesson in reputable news sources. Hint: Blogs don't count. Any high school teacher will tell you that.
Jim Pokin November 19, 2011 at 05:32 PM
I removed a comment from John Perdikus, who said he agrees with Jeff Ward, except for the comment that guidance counselors aren't paid enough, and then named a Geneva guidance counselor paid $92,287 a year. The guidance counselor who was named isn't a party to this discussion. The salary may be accurate and the comment may be on-point, but I think we can make the point without dragging an innocent bystander into this debate.
Kelly H November 19, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Actually, apostrophes almost always indicate possessive (someone owning something) and not plural as was intended here. From Purdue's writing center (a great grammar resource): "The apostrophe has three uses: 1. to form possessives of nouns, 2. to show the omission of letters, 3. to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters" (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01/). Therefore, if you use the word "American's", you are referring to something one single American owns. Yahoo answers isn't a great place to get advice about much - it's a lot worse than Wikipedia in terms of oversight. MLA (Modern Language Association) doesn't typically comment on grammar so much - it oversees mostly formatting and citation conventions in social science writing - so I'm not sure where the responder on your link would have gotten the MLA's "opinion" on apostrophes. I never comment on grammar errors in online conversations, but what kind of teacher would I be if I didn't correct a misconception when it's being discussed? :)
Chad D. Walz November 19, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Crazy libs in this state.
Chad D. Walz November 19, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Thanks for the correction teach. I can't even fathom how I got through college. Standards must be that low...HA!!! LOL
Chad D. Walz November 19, 2011 at 10:54 PM
The old college curve. No wonder I gradumated!
Rosie November 22, 2011 at 08:54 PM
Back to the subject at hand!! I tell my kids everyday, if you like me or you think of me as your "friend" I am doing something wrong!!! I am so tired of spoiled, rude and disrespectful children!! Parents need to stop being selfish and spend more time mentoring and guiding their children to be "good" people. Having the best clothes, all the travel sports and being popular will only get you so far in the real world. Such a disservice is being done...
Eileen Kenah December 03, 2011 at 03:39 AM
Just read this article because it was related to Jeff's current article. You are so right Kara. I frequently tell my children, "Life is not fair. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be" as well as the Rolling Stones Quote.


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