Ask Mr. Dad: The downside of praise

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I’m sick and tired of hearing parents tell their kids that they’re “awesome” or “amazing” or “incredible” or any of the other overused words people use these days. The fact is that most kids aren’t any of those things. I’m wondering whether we’re doing damage to our society with our nonstop praise. What’s your take on this?

A: I couldn’t agree with you more. We live in an era where we give kids trophies for showing up — regardless of how well they play — and we rave about everything they do, whether it’s rave-worthy or not (and in most cases, it’s not).

It all started a few decades ago with some very well-intentioned mental health professionals who told us that low self-esteem was the root of all problems. In the mid-1980s, the state of California did a very expensive report on self-esteem that summed up this attitude quite nicely: “Lack of self-esteem is central to most personal and social ills plaguing our state and nation as we approach the end of the 20th century.” The solution — suggested by those same mental health professionals — was to make people (especially kids) feel good about themselves. So we started praising our children more than parents of previous generations did. Over time, that praise ballooned into worship. And the results haven’t been pretty.

The first casualty was the English language, which lost the use of perfectly good words like “awesome,” which no longer means what people think it does. (Does