Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Self-affirmation, it's what's wrong with America

No offense, but your child is probably not going to be the next Da Vinci. They probably won't even be the next "genius" that does things like staple dryer lint to a canvas, but that's no reason not to build up their confidence now!

Last night we were short staffed (again) and I spent time covering the desk in the children's department. This is usually an ok job, the two biggest drawbacks are that every parent believes their 5-year-old is reading at an 8th grade level and wants book recommendations, and that the information desk backs up to the children's computer area. The computers in the children's department do not have access to the internet, but are preloaded with games. One game plays animal sounds as the child playing is supposed to click on the animal that makes that sound in order to move forward. I will admit that I'm a little disturbed by how many children click on the wrong animal when the sound playing is clearly a cat. What are these preschools teaching children if they think a sheep goes "meow"? Another "game" features nursery rhymes and songs with animated graphics -- almost like MTV for toddlers. So, it would be accurate to say that after an hour of background noise that consisted of nothing but "Row, row, row your boat" and "MEOW" on repeat, my brain started to feel a little mushy and I longed to return to the adult reference area. I actually caught myself nodding my head, tapping my foot, or drumming my fingers on the keyboard in time with "Row, row, row your boat" and felt as though the parents that witnessed this thought of me as some sort of idiot sitting in for the regular "normal" children's librarian.

But I digress. The game I had the most problems with was an art themed game, where children were encouraged to "color" a black and white picture using computer paint tools. I watched as one little girl nicely (though drab with the color choices) colored in a picture of an elephant having a picnic. After a few minutes, her father came to collect her and she left the computer game playing, where another girl approached the computer and sat down, her mother almost collapsing in the chair next to her. I was curious to see if this little girl would start over with a fresh drawing to make her own or if she would change the colors and improve on the work done by the previous artist. Of course neither of these things happened.

The first thing she did was select a black crayon and with violent movements of her hand on the mouse, she raked a black streak back and forth across the picture before concentrating on creating a black hole where the elephant's picnic blanket had previously been. It was at this moment that the computer decided to pipe up with its automated positive reinforcement, "Good job!" At hearing this, the little girl gasped and turned to her mother, "It said I'm doing good!" she squealed, meanwhile I thought, "Hmmm, you really think so?"

Confident in her skills, the little girl then selected the paint tool in a shade of baby poop brown and proceeded to click randomly all over the screen, filling the sky, the grass, and the elephant himself with the offensive color. As the pièce de résistance, she decided to employ the "sticker" function, where the child selects a graphic from the toolbar to enhance their creation. This little girl chose the basketball sticker (which makes a "bloop!" sound everytime it is used) and continued to cover the landscape with basketballs (bloop! bloop! bloop!) until only the elephant's poo brown head peeking out from the black hole, surrounded by basketballs could be seen. The computer decided to chime in, "You're a great artist!" here and the little girl beamed in repeating this well deserved praise to her mother.

Ok, I know the above makes me sound like a total bitch and it's not like I would want the mom to actually say to her daughter, "No, that sucks sweetie," but pumping her up with delusions of grandeur is acceptable? Why must we all be special unique snowflakes who never do anything wrong?

My parents grew up in a time where children still served utilitarian purposes, and therefore thought it was important to instill a belief in brother and myself that we were amazingly talented and special children. The end result? My brother and I have not always had the easiest times, carrying on as if our shit didn't stink, all because our parents had written "some pig" in the Charlotte's web of our lives. A public booing during my 5th grade solo was enough to end my poorly conceived musical career, while my brother spent six years at a party college, touring different majors because none of his professors could see him for the radiant ball of creativity that he was. Even today, with my Lisa Simpson type personality, I find myself suffering from praise withdrawl from my superiors and fantasize about some alternate reality where the president phones the library with an emergency request that I perform on Broadway. After a lifetime of thinking one is special, how does one cope with the truth that one is, at best, ordinary?

I ask this question, partly because I feel our society is so self obsessed, but also because every teen sensation that comes along is apparently the second comming of Christ: not only is Paris Hilton a lucky individual who will inherit wealth, but she is also an amazing author, actress, and has a star quality singing voice! I am disturbed by the child who cannot recognize that it is a cat who meows, but also by the fact that this child will most likely grow up believing they will get their own tv show and recording contract.

So I ask you, the reader, to do your part. Go out today and tell someone that their drawing is ugly, that they can't sing along to that song on the radio, that they have the bone structure of an accountant. Let's do our part to destroy what's destroying this country: positive thinking! Please take someone aside and tell them that they are not a special snowflake, unless that person is me.


  1. haha i cant imagine seeing that little girls poop basketball drawing in real life -stephatrc :"D

  2. Oh my god--yes! Well said. We were having a conversation about this just the other day because it seems all the people at my dinner table had had to attend one of those, "what's to be done with millenials?" training sessions where we're encouraged to support their deranged, self-involved worldview and offer constant support and positive reinforcement.

    I'm sorry you were publicly booed, but I'm glad you had your expectations checked so thoroughly. While I don't necessarily agree with my parents' attitude toward raising me i.e. Shoot squarely for the middle, at least when I graduated college and grad school and found it impossible to get a real job, I was able to deal with that somewhat gracefully.

    I feel like in ten years all these kids will have either killed themselves, or just moved back in with their parents never to procreate or work a real job.

  3. @steph - hey stranger ;) Yeah, it was a real masterpiece, I should've asked them if they wanted me to print it out when she was finished.

    @ladyandria - What's to be done with millenials seminars? Bleh! I mostly pity these kids and project major drug and/or alcohol dependency in their futures. Except for that "Jersey Shore" crap, I just want all of those people to die in a fire.

  4. Yes, but Miss Shushie, but these are the people that make up the only watchable portion of American Idol.
    The ones who swear up and down that they are the best singer in the world but they sound like an ape mating ritual.
    Here's to you, the overly-inflated-ego-enabling parents!

    For some reason I have Whitney Houston stuck in my head now... "I believe the children are our are future, Teach them well and let them lead the way," yeah right lol.