When my son said, "I don't care what ANYONE thinks," I knew it was time to change the way I parent.
I like to believe that I'm raising pretty confident, polite children. I've done all the uplifting, motivational stuff—like creating affirmations and making the lists of things we are grateful for. My kids are known for saying things like: "Give your best," and "Learn from your mistakes."
So, when I eavesdropped on my oldest teen and his buddies and I heard my son say, "I don't care what anybody thinks," I was more than a little disappointed. In fact, I was kind of pissed. I mean, it's not like he said, "They're wrong about me," or, "That's not true for me," or even, "That wasn't my intention."
He literally said, "I don't care what anybody thinks." To me, that's not empowering; that's arrogant ... and that's a problem.
It never really bugged me before when I heard it from other people's children. I never let it get to me beyond thinking, Well that was rude! No wonder no one listens to you. But, when someone called out my own child for doing something another person found offensive, and he then declared that he "didn't care" what that person thought, it got me thinking.
Perhaps we're getting this "empowerment" thing VERY wrong.
When my son and I spoke later that day, he said a kid accused him of bragging about his possessions, his family trips, 4-wheeling, special events, and so on.
My first reaction was, "Well, screw that kid! You shouldn't care what he thinks. He's just jealous." But then, I had to stop myself. I mean, so what if my kid was bragging? I'm not saying that being proud of what we earn or being grateful for what we have is a bad thing. After all, I'm the one who made him keep a gratitude journal from the time he was 9.
But what if he's over-shooting the gratitude mark? What if he's become cocky and obnoxious about what he has by rubbing his good fortune in other people's faces and making them feel "less than"? If so, that kind of behavior is NOT okay with me, and is not consistent with the kind of young man I want to raise.
If my son was bragging, that's something he needs to work on before it begins to affect his friendships.
As long as he believes the acceptable response to being called out is, "I don't give a crap what you think," he will never be open to hearing how he's being received so that he can adjust.
His situation reminds me of a young girl in the park who I caught throwing rocks at another child. I gently instructed her to stop when she quipped back, "That's my friend and you're not my mom!"
I reminded her that throwing rocks at a friend is a quick way to lose one, and I didn't have to be her mother to stop her from hurting another person. Then I asked, "Do you want your friend to think you're mean?" This time, her response was "I don't care what ANYONE thinks! And I don't have to listen to you! I'm going to tell my parents you're yelling at me!"
In my mind I was like: Oh, puh-lease, tell on me! But, my logical side told me that her belief of her own flawlessness was instilled in her a very long time ago. She was simply defending her actions out of embarrassment, and this wasn't the time or place to put my coach's hat on.
It was infuriating to say the least, but I learned that some children are so immersed in believing they don't need to care what anyone thinks, that they automatically shut down any possibility of realizing when someone is actually trying to help them.
Society conditions them to refuse any form of correction or advice from anyone, even if it's warranted. That's not confidence; that's cockiness, and it's a really undesirable trait.
I know we all want to raise confident kids who grow up to become independent, happy, successful adults, but this idea of "I don't give a sh*t what anyone thinks" is not the best path to that end. In fact, it leads to just the opposite. That kind of narrow-minded belief system leads to disrespectful, lonely children, and even to bullying. It can destroy relationships and opportunities, not only with teachers, coaches, bosses and mentors but even those we really care about—family, friends and loved ones.
I know that today, more than ever, it's important to raise children who stand up for their beliefs and passions. I am aware of how important it is for a child to recognize when a person says something about them that isn't true, and the child should ignore it.
But, I also know those skills come from empowering them to know what is true for them—by celebrating their gifts, and acknowledging what makes them lovable, admirable and respectable—not by teaching them not to care about anyone else's point of view.
There is an old Hungarian Proverb about a horse and a saddle that I think would benefit a whole lot of young people today: "If one person calls you a horse, ignore them. If two people call you a horse, look in a mirror. If five people call you a horse, you may want to buy yourself a saddle."
Now, I'm not saying we should encourage our kids to conform to other's ideas of what they "should" be. I know how important it is to teach our kids to not internalize everything someone says about them. But, when we teach them to not care about or listen to what anyone thinks—or that anyone who offers any kind of constructive criticism should be met with anger, hostility, defiance, or smart ass retorts—we set our kids up for failure.
We keep them from being teachable, coachable and accepting. We teach them that they are not accountable for their actions, even when they're wrong. We deny them a tremendous education in emotional intelligence—including knowing and evaluating how others perceive us, and how our choices affect those around us.
Perhaps, in a time when we focus on acceptance, tolerance and positive growth, it's time to change our mantra from "I don't care what anybody thinks," to "I'm doing my best and I'm learning."