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Why Is Harper Gruzins’s Performance Hitting Such a Nerve?

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Dr. Meg Meeker

In the midst the recent glorious medley of Olympic achievements, one upset involving 11-year-old Harper Gruzins is juxtaposed in a peculiar and unnerving manner. This young girl’s poor rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” has attracted national attention.  As a parent, I cringe at the attention she has received. Here’s why I think her performance went viral.

First, there is the “ouch” factor. Whenever we see another person make mistakes, we want to crawl under a rock for them. What if that happened to me or my own child, we wonder. But in this case, the “ouch” factor eludes me a bit. Didn’t her parents know that either she isn’t a particularly good singer—or that even if she is one, she may mess up in front of tens of thousands of people? I understand when a grown-up willingly walks into this type of situation, but how does a loving parent allow their child to end up in such a spot?

That’s easy to answer. We are a culture obsessed with the success and popularity of our children. If the world loves our child, then our child has won. They will become famous, “discovered,” wealthy, and they will have arrived. If that happens, then we have succeeded as parents. After all, isn’t the purpose of our lives as parents to insure the success of our children?

Of course it is. But the problem is that we have come to define success in bizarre terms. When parents care more about getting their kid seen than they do with helping their child develop strong character, trouble lies ahead for all of them. That’s where I believe Harper’s parents made their first mistake: they threw their daughter to the lions because they wanted her to be discovered more than they wanted her to develop into a strong young woman.

Second, we parents have become seriously loopy. I’m sure that Harper’s parents heard her sing thousands of times. Maybe they heard a different song than we did; I don’t know. But I do know that parents hear what they want to hear. And since we are living in a time when every parent believes that the best thing we can do to boost our child’s self esteem is to tell them over and over that they are great at everything, we set them up for failure and humiliation.

As Tim Elmore says in Generation iY, we teach our kids that they can excel at everything when they can’t. In doing this, we lie to them. Why? Because we believe that it will boost their self esteem. I wonder how Harper’s self esteem is right now.

Parents have the often gruesome task of teaching their kids what they are good at, what they aren’t good at, and about who they are and about who they aren’t. It doesn’t do our kids any good to teach them to develop their strengths if they can’t distinguish their strengths from their weaknesses. An enormous part of real success is knowing what those weaknesses are.

I feel sorry for Harper, and I feel sad for her parents. They have all been raked over the coals because Harper’s parents, like so many of the rest of us parents have been duped into believing that in order to raise competent kids, we need to tickle their ears and get them famous. The problem for both parties is that both end in misery. Just ask Harper and her mom and dad.

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