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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 19/02/2008 | 4 Comments

I try not to write too many blogs on young people as it gives the impression that we are a charity working only in this area. But we’re not: we work across sectors. At present we have consultants devising a positive organisation training programme for the Centre and we regularly have meetings with people from sport, business, social services, tourism etc. But it is also true to say that a lot of my time is currently taken up with matters relating to young people. This is partly through funding arrangements with the Scottish Government but also through choice: the new Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland has put confidence at the heart of Scottish education and so we want to have some influence on this agenda.

Anyway, I’m putting aside any reservations about keeping writing blogs on this topic because of the importance of some of the issues involved. And these issues aren’t simply of relevance to professionals working with young people. They are particulary important to parents.

For the past few months in just about all my contact with teachers and head teachers I have been told that in middle class areas, at least, there is a queue of parents on a daily basis to complain that their child isn’t happy about their academic performance or some other aspect of their school life. This complaint could be about their son failing maths -‘it’s bad for his self-esteem to fail. I don’t think you should be giving them marks’, they’ll say. Or it could be a complaint that the child didn’t get chosen for a particular part in the school show or musical and is ‘devastated and upset’. It could also be a concern about their daughter being ‘bullied’ because she has fallen out with friends and the school now has to do something to set it right.

These complaints, which used to be something of a daily trickle, is now turning into such a torrent that many education staff are feeling besieged and somewhat pissed off. One head teacher the other day at an event I was speaking at, told the assembled audience how she went into teaching as she loved children and wanted to be involved in their development. She certainly struck me as the type of warm professional who would run an exceptionally good school. But she is now being so besieged with complaints from parents about their offspring’s unhappiness about something or another that she is beginning to feel like’ Cruella de Vil’. In wealthy areas where parents are used to using money to fix problems, teachers also say that they think there is a high-handed mentality: parents seem to think that they’re in the position to make sure that ‘service staff’ – in this instance them – are just there to fix problems. If their son or daughter isn’t happy well it is the school’s job to fix it.

The professionals I’m speaking to are pretty unanimous in their view that this obsession with how young people feel, and the attempt to protect them from any bad feelings is having a very negative effect. They can see it is undermining the young people’s resilience and making them feel vulnerable and anxious about how they feel.

You can see why at the Centre we are concerned that the agenda we’re working on could help fuel parents’ desire to protect their children from bad feelings.

The message we’re trying to get over is this: bad feelings, failure, rejection, up-set, criticism etc are an inevitable and normal part of life and often have positive consequences as they lead individuals to do things differently or to learn valuable lessons in life. Paying too much attention to how children feel in the moment will undermine their learning by lowering expectations. Children need to be challenged, taught how to persist and find, through experience, that they can overcome set backs.

At one school cluster the other day where I was speaking about this I knew about twenty teachers in the audience as I’ve done some training in the past with them on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This means that I knew their personality types. What I found fascinating is that the support for the viewpoint I was taking was across the types. It wasn’t just the hard headed logical folk who were agreeing: even the more touchy feely, compassionate types are really irked. One learning support teacher told me that she really now wants to say to senior girls in a secondary school, who have fallen out and want the involvement of staff – “just stop thinking about yourself, so much. Forget it and move on.” Another primary head teacher also said that she feels like saying to complaining parents – “Get over it.”

So a big part of the lesson I’ve been learning from my involvement with education staff is how much we need to get this message across to parents.
Comment By Comment
Alex Smith

Comment Posted: 23/02/2008 15:08
There is a lot of truth in the comments from teachers but it is not new, it's just got worse. And that despite the fact that evidence, including much presented in "Creating Confidence," shows that telling children that they are always right does not produce good adults. In fact, in many cases it produces downright bad adults.

I have worked with young people, mostly in schools, for more than thirty years and have seen the results of spoiling children too many times for comfort. We cannot generalise from the particular but one thirty-year-old I know is a case in point. His parents were constantly at his school complaining that their son was being picked on by teachers and bullied by other pupils. The simple fact is that this young lad had been spoiled from birth and was already displaying signs that because he had always been told that he was right he had no concept of rejection and had no self-control.

The result is that now in his early thirties and the son of professional parents he has never held down a job, has cost his father a fortune supporting him in a business which is failing because he will not put in the necessary effort and has had at least two spells as a guest of Her Majesty in Greenock Prison. At an early age people have to learn that at times life can be hard and painful and that only by accepting that and learning to cope with it will future happiness come.
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thomasmunro
Joined: 25/08/2006

Comment Posted: 06/03/2008 12:21
This is a brilliant thread with excellent comments. I am fascinated by this stuff because I know what it's like to challenge adversity. It's a life skill isn't it?

This reminds me of a wee story set in a a similar 'middle class' area with similar type parents. I was watching my son playing football and his team was loosing. It is important to note that they were losing because the other team had a) scored more goals than them (my son was the goalie) and b) they were playing poorly. They have a few good individual players who seem to have difficulty playing as a team because they all seem to want the glory of being the 'top scorer' or the 'best player' regardless of the consequences for the team as a whole. Well you can imagine what they looked like, shoulders down heads down, tempers up. One kid even got sent off (10yr old!!).Their behaviour was shocking. They ended up loosing something like 4 or 5 nil at the hands of a team they had won over previously. It was embarrassing to watch and in such a 'respectable' are too.

At the end of the game I was amazed to hear that several spectating parents and especially the football coach were trying to reassure them by saying things like, 'well done', 'good effort you played well there'. It was all a load of lies. And what's more the kids knew it. You could see it in their body language and facial expressions.

I had previously read The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman and could see what he meant by the damage being done by the 'self esteem movement' and the false expectation it creates. It seems we now have the 'self esteem classes' in Scotland. So I decided to try a wee social experiment and apply Seligman's learning.

I waited until the coach had finished and in his own way he was trying to motivate them but seemed to be having the opposite effect, by using praise instead of honesty. The team knew me because I am a regular supporter and helper. Once the coach was finished I said, "Well boys that was the worst display of teamwork, discipline and football I have ever seen you play". They all stopped and looked at me surprised. I had their attention and unfortunately that of the coach and other parents too. I then said " I know you can play better than that and I think you know that you can too. It's important to be honest with your self when you think about how you can learn from this game so you can play better next time".

I thought I had over stepped the mark by sticking my neck out. I thought there was going to be a riot. The coach then, obviously feeling the need to retaliate, said that he didn't think what I said was helpful. I then had an interesting discussion with him and recommended Seligmans book as a communication aid to his coaching style. His attitude was shocking. One of fixed belief that you are either 'naturally' talented or not. Even the parents had the same defeatist view. Some of them still haven't spoken to me! The true cost of honesty....no loss.

This I believe is the real challenge for us as parents and social citizens. To challenge everyday and in every way the notion that class, particularly in Scotland, provides privilege and overconfidence that gives assumed, and even divine, 'natural' rights! How money then comes into this equation is amazing, it becomes more than a measure of success, it's like a belief to continue to own success.

In these cases I think overconfidence through wealth creates just as many problems as poverty and lack of confidence.

So the CfC has a lot of work to do... I for one as a parent completely supports it's quest.

TM
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