resurrect red pens

The car radio was tuned to an ABC station when one of those interchangeable psychologists with hyphenated names who have mastered the sound bite came on.“We have been responsible for the wussification of an entire generation,” he opined.

“Teachers aren’t even meant to use red pens to mark students’ work any more because it is considered too aggressive.”

It was a statement that resonated on many levels.

We have reached a point in our culture where we use ghastly words such as “learnings” but have become afraid to challenge and, where necessary, correct our children.

Recently I interviewed a musical theatre star who has hit her straps after years of rejection. Between gigs, she teaches and has been stunned by the number of students who unashamedly declared themselves to be triple threats.

“Triple threat” is a phrase that originated in Broadway musical theatre and refers to a performer who excels at all three key areas: singing, dancing and acting.

I got the sense that some of her “triple threat” students not only struggled to sing on key, some had two left feet and all the stage presence of a washing basket.

Yet they had reached their late teens or early 20s without anyone having dared to suggest they were anything other than stellar performers. Was it up to her to puncture the enormous balloons of their egos?

Talking to a group of students recently, I encountered a similar attitude of all-round awesomeness.

One young woman made it clear my insights were pretty much useless to her because, while I was a journo, she was going to be a writer. Seeking to find some common ground, I asked what writers she liked to read. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t like reading. I just like writing.”

Writing was her “passion” and, more than anything else, she liked writing about herself because she was, after all, so endlessly fascinating and blogged every day.

Self-confidence is one thing, but self-awareness and having a clear perception of your own individuality, including strengths and weaknesses, is every bit as important. It seems to me we have set up a generation for failure and disappointment, by sheltering and cosseting them to such a degree that they don’t know how to lose, how to compete or even board a bus alone.

A friend recently told me of a colleague who had finally allowed her 13-year-old son to catch the bus to school only because she had to go to an interstate conference, which meant she couldn’t drive him.

First, though, she had to have a test run. She dropped the boy at the bus stop, then followed the bus to school, where the boy’s father was waiting to ensure he alighted safely.

I don’t totally buy “the Generation Z and Gen Alpha are narcissists” trope but I do think that, while the most technologically savvy, they are also the least prepared for some of the uncomfortable realities of adult life.

By all means spend this school holiday ferrying the children to non-competitive activities and telling them they are stars.

Just do them a big favour and remind them there are at least 70 sextillion others in the universe.



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