Bragging: Arrogance or Virtue?
As long as there have been kids, there have been parents bragging about them. But with the explosion of social media, bragging has gone viral. The brag floats through virtual space, often wreaking havoc on relationships while netting Facebook “likes” and Twitter “favorites.” Is there any good way to brag? When is it over the top? And how do parents — and their kids — deal with it?
“We can easily post a quick tweet or a Facebook message or snap a picture and put it on Instagram,” says Nichole Huff, an assistant professor and extension specialist in N.C. State’s Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences. “I think that is fueling the tendency to brag. I don’t know that parents are actually realizing that they are bragging. We can get caught up in the social media mayhem. ‘This is what my child is doing. Look at my child.’”
Huff, who has a 6- and a 4-year-old, says bragging often comes from a good place, with parents genuinely excited and proud, but sometimes it can be fueled by insecurity. After all, good parenting is a difficult path to forge, and one where success is hard to measure.
“I think that sometimes we brag because it’s our way of saying, ‘Hey, I must be doing this right if my child is succeeding,’” she says. “So sometimes, we can judge our parenting prowess as the result of what our children are doing correctly.”
Whatever the motivation, nobody likes a braggart, and a brag can spin out of control, damaging the emotions of the child being bragged on, her siblings and her parents’ friends.
When Bragging Goes Bad
When you brag, other parents tend to find it annoying and frustrating, says Dr. Eli Jerchower, a licensed psychologist with Silber Psychological Services in Raleigh and Cary.
“Inherently, (bragging) hits back to our own insecurities and makes another parent feel bad about what another parent is not doing or what their child hasn’t done,” he says, offering examples. “‘I haven’t enrolled my child in piano lessons at age 5,’ or ‘he’s not learning Chinese.’”
Brags about accomplishments that most parents struggle with, such as toilet training their kids or getting them to sleep through the night, are particularly irritating, Jerchower says. A certain level of pride in your child or his or her accomplishments is healthy. However, he adds that today’s culture of extracurricular activities that have caused kids to become more competitive at a younger age is driving bragging.
“Activities have gotten more structured,’ he says. “You’re not just playing soccer in the neighborhood after school. You’re on a team, you’re competing against other kids, they’re keeping score. So, there are all these benchmarks now as to what level your child is on. … There is a lot more of that going on, so it helps create these goals that weren’t necessarily there 20 years ago, and it has come down to a much earlier age, even piano competitions, art competitions.”
Bragging can cause sibling rivalry, as well as stress in the child being bragged about to keep up with unrealistic expectations, Jerchower says. It never hurts for a child to hear something positive, but if he or she keeps hearing a parent talk about an accomplishment in one particular area, it sets him or her up to think that’s the level of success that must be achieved. Some children even develop a fear of failing.
“It’s important to be aware of what your children are hearing you say about them and focus on the effort and process, and not just about the outcome,” Jerchower says. “When we think about bragging, it tends to be a lot about the outcome, and that’s where parents run into trouble, developing false expectations about what it means to be good and what it means to be valued.”
Both Jerchower and Huff say that before you share your child’s accomplishments, consider the audience — and avoid posting the news on social media. A Facebook post goes out to everyone, setting the stage for competitiveness among parents and friends who may feel compelled to keep up, whereas communication that reaches only close family members sends the news to those who care most.
Facing a Braggart
So how should you respond to a braggart? The answer is simple, according to experts: disengage.
“Parents should just remind themselves not to get caught up in the keeping up,” Huff says. “I think that parents should resist that temptation to engage in this bragging competition. They should be cordial, be polite, but not really fuel the conversation. Say, ‘That’s great! Good for little Johnny!’ And if the parent is bragging on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, then that is easy to ignore or hide and unfriend if it’s bothering (you).”
A point to consider is that kids often learn by imitation. If we are parents who brag, we are going to be raising children who brag, Huff says. “It’s OK to raise children who are proud of themselves, but we want them to also be modest and to be humble.”
Cindy Cottle, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Raleigh, says she tries to teach her 9-year-old the finer points of communicating.
“I've taught my son that it is impolite to brag, and that there is a fine line between being proud and demonstrating pride versus bragging,” she says. Her son’s teachers taught him early on to look for connections when he meets people instead of talking about himself.
“Finding the connections and sharing in the joy of the accomplishment of the other people is a skill that has to be almost proactively taught by your parents and your teachers,” she says.
Cottle agrees that social media offers an easy place to brag, but there’s something to be said for being proud of one’s own hard-earned accomplishments. After starting to run three years ago to lose weight after the birth of her second son, Cottle worked her way up from running 1 mile to running marathons, garnering a slew of medals. At age 40, she thought her medals deserved to see the light of day, so she hung them on a wreath (pictured at right) on her front door. She knew she’d never win a marathon, but she was proud of having finished the races.
That’s when her son asked her a hard question.
“About a year ago, my son looked at the wreath,” she recalls with amusement. “‘Mom,’ he said, ‘isn't that bragging to have that on our front door all year?’”
Sometimes kids figure things out faster than their parents.
Odile Fredericks is the web editor of Carolina Parent.