While I’m writing at a café a girl of about 9 is carrying a mason jar of parfait balanced on a saucer, as she begins to sit it slides off the saucer, bounces on her chair, then shatters on the floor. She freezes as the tears start to well up in her eyes. She looks at her brother who seems unfazed. She stands, moving slowly to get a napkin as her face contorts as she half tries to clean it, not knowing what to do.
The adults, it looks like her mom and grandpa, reassure her it’s fine, “Everyone makes mistakes”, and “We’ll get another one, it’s no big deal”. It occurs to me that 40 years ago the tears would be about the lost dessert and perhaps the scolding that came with breaking the jar, but these tears are humiliation, they come from a pressure to know how to do things, a pressure to have it all together.
The café staff also reassures her and moments later they have appeared with a new, identical parfait. They have her move to another spot at the table so they can clean up the floor-splattered dessert and jar. Something about this scene reminds me of my friend’s 10-year-old son. His interactions seem like he’s trying to remain calm and confident while the plates he’s spinning fall to the floor, always overly confident about facts and insights that are as often wrong as right.
This is the problem with too much praise, with too much allowing them to pretend they know more, are capable of more, are better at more than they are. It creates pressure to be something they’re not. To spend too much effort managing the façade, managing the image of perfection. Their 15 minutes of fame have started and they’re only 7. From this moment on they must keep treading water to keep themselves up in this rarified air.