Ignoring My Kids — For Their Own Good

Why Our 'Look at Me!' Culture Is So Wrong

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By Jordana Horn

Published February 02, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
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‘Mom! Hey, Mom! Look at me!”

“Look at me!” has probably been a refrain of parenting small children since the days of “Mom! Look at the drawing of oxen I made on the wall of the cave!” It can seem constant: “Mom! Look how high I can go on the swing!”; “Dad! Come look at my drawing!”; “Mom! Look at me! I’m standing on my tippy toes!” And in the age of the iPhone camera, we as parents can easily capture all these adorable moments and send them out to friends and family, and post them on Facebook — which basically is the adult way of saying: “Look at me!”

Implicit in all our exhibitionism and “Take pics or it didn’t happen!” culture is the idea that it’s the acknowledgment from the outside world that makes an endeavor worthwhile.

As a parent, I think that’s dangerous, and I want to try to stop it in my own home.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s hard for me to retreat. I adore each one of my (five) kids. Through the rose-colored glasses of my adoration, they are all little geniuses, even the 3-month-old. But if I leap to obey each time I am told to “look at me” — or applaud them for everything they do — they will have a distorted sense of what “accomplishment” really is.

These days, parenting means schlepping to games and meets and performances hours away. It even means sitting through practices for these displays of “skill,” often in quotes: “Mom, did you see that catch I made?” Oy.

I have a sneaking suspicion that all this “Look at me!” is more than just narcissistic — it’s self-defeating. Because if a kid feels that her actions have no worth until they’re observed and applauded by someone else, then how can she develop an inner compass? How can my son develop a sense of what gives him personal satisfaction if doing a good job hinges on my attendance or approval?

In other words, it shouldn’t be the stamp of my eyeball or my presence that makes something worth doing or accomplishing. It’s the personal satisfaction of having done your best that conveys real worth, and self-worth.


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