The Barney Effect

June 8, 2012

If there was a Pulitzer Prize for commencement speeches, Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. would walk away the undisputed winner this year. You see McCullough gave a speech to the graduating class that wasn’t the same old pablum everyone in the audience paid no attention to while they were texting their friends a few seats down.

No, McCullough caught everyone’s attention by telling the assembled students and parents that contrary to what they had heard all their short lives, they were NOT special.  All that coddling and over the top praise by their helicopter parents, their soccer coaches, their piano teacher, their grandparents, and all those other enablers among their friends was the big lie.

McCullough reminded the quasi-special students that once they leave the cocoon of high school and home and enter the real world, they will quickly find out that there are thousands of students out there who are just as smart and gifted as they are, in fact they will find out that there are thousands of students out there who are much smarter and more gifted than they are.

What McCullough was trying to do is put an end to the Barney Effect – remember that huge purple character on children’s television who always said to this generation that they are special. What the Barney Effect has done in American society is create a generation of  teenagers who have led a charmed and entitled life and have been fed the story that they are different than the rest of their peers, in fact led to believe that they are somehow superior.

The Barney Effect hopefully has begun to run its course and with it this huge myth that young people must be handled with care and that they don’t need to prepare for a world that is super competitive, super impersonal and super demanding. What they do need is to become the masters of their own fate and look themselves objectively in the mirror to see who they are and what they possess in terms of intelligence and talent. What they don’t need are all those backslappers who have protected them from the real world for far too long. Thank you David McCullough and good bye Barney.



Stop the Helicopter Parents!

July 6, 2011

As I watch our daughter and son-in-law raise their two children, I know that the tiny tots are in good hands. Mom and Dad don’t go into a tissy when one of them falls down and gets a bruise. Mom and Dad are not afraid to speak sternly when they go astray and Mom and Dad are ever conscious about teaching them manners. 

Gracie and Noah are certainly not perfect ( even though their grandparents think so) and will likely have their bad side moments as they get older, but I am proud to say that Mom and Dad are not going to end up as helicopter parents hovering over their children, trying desperately to protect them from harm or worse yet trying to be their best buddy. 

There is a growing body of evidence coming forth that those children raised by the helicopter parents are entering young adulthood with serious issues of depression, anxiety, sadness and a sense of being lost in the world. Therapists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that these disorders are related to parents who not only did everything for their kids when they grew up, but also protected them from even the most mundane threats to their health and safety.

There is evidence everywhere about what drives the helicopter parents – minor injuries are blown out of proportion, mediocre grades become a major intellectual crisis, failure to start on a soccer or baseball team are huge disappointments.

The national symbol of the helicopter parent is the insistence that their kid get some kind of trophy or ribbon, even if the child did nothing to deserve the recognition.  Hovering Mom and Dad become insistent that their child be made to feel better to boost their self-esteem.

The helicopter parents are even afraid to end the hovering once their child gets to college as they call incessantly, complain to professors over grades and never give their son or daughter a chance to be on their own and grow up.

All of this smothering and parental intervention has created a generation of young adults who simply can’t cope with life and have been so protected that when they enter the sometimes cruel world they fall apart or lose their way.

The lesson to be learned here is that nurturing a child does require parental monitoring, but not parental smothering and regular insistence that their child be treated in a special manner.

What parents need to realize is that they are preparing their child for life, with all its bumps and obstacles and that leaving them to fend for themselves and experience disappointment is not a bad thing, it is just part of growing up in the real world.