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Ladders to Social Prestige
Do we as parents feel responsible for our child, or are we trying to use our son or daughter for our own benefit, at the expense of what is good for our child.

Little Danny is growing up. No baby he; not any more. We may recall with longing how sweet and cuddly he was as an infant, but those days have past, never to return. Today he is a toddler, reveling in his independence. A year ago, he was completely dependent on Father and Mother; today, his motto is "Danny do it alone!"

His social circle has also widened. No longer "mama's boy", he has added a list of admiring aunts and uncles and older children to his social register. Whether we like it or not, we are no longer the exclusive claimants to his attention and even affection. We have no choice but to share our "pride and joy" with other relatives, neighbors, and even the postman.

Another adjustment is called for, due to the fact that Danny now expresses his preferences and dislikes, and expects us to cooperate. When we fail to comply, or even do so too slowly for his liking, the results can be vociferous and violent; we may even get a temper tantrum if we are overly delinquent in fulfilling his desires accurately. In short, Danny developing, and becoming an individual personality right before our adoring eyes. We no longer have  complete control over his life.

It is not always so easy for parents to accept this new, enhanced version of their darling, totally dependent infant. Not every father and mother welcomes this new stage in his child's development. Deep in our hearts, we may prefer that our child remain our exclusive possession, that his loyalties and allegiances be directed only to us, his parents. We wish he would remain as he was: exactly as we understand a baby should be. At that stage, he met all of our expectations – and our expectations were many.

Each society establishes its own scale of success and failure. Individuals are "graded" according to how close they come to the top of the ladder. There is no universal measure of social success. Each social environment judges its members by its own, unique scale. Some consider financial success as the top rung on the ladder, while others look up to academic achievements, or to prestige and power. The common denominator is that each society rates its members according to its own criteria.  

The family circle is a smaller unit of society, and displays similar characteristics. Nowadays, many families' homes have been invaded by the universal pressures of competition for success in the workplace. Parents unwittingly place demands on children and create an air of competition. Many fathers and mothers are convinced that their rating as parents is determined by a success-failure scale similar to that of society as a whole. They view their offspring as an extension of themselves; therefore, everything their children do, or fail to do, affects their rating in their own eyes. Moreover, they are convinced that their children's achievements determine their rating tin the eyes of others, as well. Consequently, their child's lack of success, whether academic, social, athletic, or what-have-you, is taken as a personal failure on the part of the parents. In short, such parents regard their children as vehicles for their own climb to the top of the ladder of success and the prestige which comes in its wake.

Such parents fail to realize that their children are individuals in their own right, each with his or her own, unique personality. They are not the father's or mother's calling card or carbon copy. These parents rely on the approval of the children by their peers as a source of self-esteem and satisfaction in life. Their attitude is reflected in comments such as "My David has been speaking since he was just a year old. How is your Jonathan doing?" There are times when one overhears a parent asking with a sigh; "What will become of my Rachel?"

It might be revealing for this parent to ask himself whether he is truly concerned about the future of his child. Perhaps the source of worry is what the neighbors are saying about their apparent success or failure as a parent, as reflected in the child's behavior or accomplishments. How much pride can the parent take in the child's success, or how embarrassed must he be at the child's lack of success?

This is the reason that we develop a set of standards which we expect the child to meet. We live with the hope and expectation that our children will bring us laurels and social approval. We start keeping score right from the start: At what age did the child start to smile? When did she first roll over? How old was she when she began to crawl?

These are all milestones in the physical development of the infant. As the child grows older, our expectations grow with him. Social pressure compels us to raise perfect children. They must be polite, articulate, maintain good scholastic standards, and display athletic prowess. – not to mention their abilities as craftsmen, budding musicians, authors and artists. In short, our David and Rachel are expected not to disappoint Father and Mother for some twenty years – and perhaps beyond.

When a child proves to be less than perfect, as measured against his parents' expectations and hopes, we find it difficult to love him. It is a challenge not to criticize the child but to focus on his strengths. Although, intellectually, the parent may acknowledge that love, encouragement, and patience are essential components of a good education, he may find it increasingly difficult to put this principle into practice as long as he continues to view the child as a vehicle to his own social acceptance and success.

Rather than warmth and love, such a "problem child" receives an explicit or implied message; "You are letting me down! I'm disappointed with you. You're not the kind of child I wanted."

This scenario is a byproduct of a society which values only achievements, while ignoring the "how" and "why" behind them. In such a value system, there are only two possible grades on one's report card: 100% - perfect – or 0% – total failure. In most cases, this approach will prompt the child to stop trying to achieve anything at all. He cannot picture himself achieving one-hundred percent success. Since, he is doomed to failure before he begins, there is no reason to even make an attempt to complete the task. "Why bother, if in any case, I will be labeled a flop? Better get a zero because I didn't do the assignment, than do my best and be told I didn't make the grade."

This is a well-known phenomenon in the competitive world. The child will explain to one and all – and to himself – why it is not feasible to try to meet the challenge. This negative mindset prevents the child from fulfilling his potential, whether it be 50%, 70% or even 85% of the perfect score which would win him approval. What is even worse, he develops the self-image of an inferior, weak, and helpless non-achiever who is incapable of doing anything worthwhile.

This is the main reason children decide not to expend any effort on academic achievement. If their parents will not be happy with their report card at the end of the term, why try? The child instinctively feels that so long as he is a failure because he has not tried his hand at the task, there is still a chance that one day he might just make it to the top. He can still tell himself that "he has potential" – he's no good just because he hasn't tried, not because he is inherently incapable of achievement.

Thus the child is opting for the lesser of two evils: Better be told over and again that "you are so capable! If only you would make the effort!" than to be presented with test results which label an utter failure. By actually applying himself to his schoolwork, such a child runs a major risk: he may lose his image as being "so capable" if he applies himself to his studies.

Another aspect of the dilemma is the fact that the child's classmates idolize high marks. It's worth the effort to work for a mark of 95 or 98, because it brings with it the respect and admiration of his friends. The child feels that this is a goal he'll never achieve. No matter how hard he tries, it's just beyond him. He might achieve a 70, 75, or even 78. However, such a mark brings no prestige with it; so why make such an effort to achieve it? 

It's another case of the popular "all or nothing" misconception. His peers have convinced him that there is no value in partial accomplishment, or a mark that is not in the upper nineties. So they choose to remain with nothing.

Countless opportunities are lost in life because they were erroneously judged on the basis of "all or nothing" before they even got off the ground. Children do not welcome a challenge as a chance to grow; they see it as an opportunity to gain prestige. Rather than considering the actual task and the challenge involved, most children prefer to remain snug, securely tucked in to their "safety niches" where they need not put themselves to any test. There they feel safe, unaware of the fact that they are depriving themselves of the opportunity to grow and fulfill their own unique potential. Each individual who fails to become all that he might have been is a loss for the rest of his world, as well.

In conclusion, competition causes many children to avoid trying to meet a challenge. The child senses that his parents expect him to be successful in order to maintain their own self-image and prestige. This pressure and fear, keeps many a child from even making a try. The youngster quickly learns that he must succeed whenever he can, and hide his weaknesses when he cannot. He is duty bound to make a positive impression those around him; therefore he develops a fear of disappointing his parents. Within the parameters of a child's mind, the best way out of his predicament is "Don't try, and you won't fail."

The result is that the parent does not recognize the child for what he really is. He sees a child who wishes to remain close to his parents, to win their love, and to make them happy. The parent may feel responsible for his child, but the truth of the matter is that he is using him for his own benefit, at the expense of what is beneficial for the child.

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