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Parenting Traps

Bragging rights

How much boasting is too much?

By Virginia A. Smith
November 1, 2009

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It is a beautiful fall morning, and my 12-year-old son is playing soccer with his team. The air is crisp, the leaves are turning glorious colors, and the boys are doing well. It’s great to spend time with the parents after a summer apart.

Then I overhear one boy’s father loudly telling another dad, “Over the summer, my son read The Iliad in Russian.” My heart sinks. Everyone’s proud of their kids, but surely there’s a limit to boasting about them?

I notice around my two older kids that the amount of parental boasting has accelerated. Wherever I go -- town meeting, the playground, the aisles of Stop & Shop -- I hear, “My daughter’s in all AP classes” or “My son won the (fill in the blank) award.” One mother doesn’t even pause to say hello before starting to boast about her daughter’s academic achievements and popularity.

There are several problems with boasting: One, unless I care deeply for you or your child, I don’t want to hear it. Two, it makes me wonder why you feel compelled to boast, along the lines of my wondering about the, uh, attributes of people who drive Hummers. Three, if you boast too much, you’re not going to find sympathetic ears when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.

And four, as Dr. Stuart Goldman, a psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Boston, says, “Parental support is wonderful for children, but when parents use their children’s successes as a way of bolstering their own self-esteem, they risk undercutting their children’s sense of personal accomplishment. These children could potentially come to feel that they’re failures if they don’t always hit a home run.”

As for me, do I boast about my kids’ athletic and academic achievements? Of course! But I keep it tight: I tell only family and close friends. You’ll never catch me on the soccer fields broadcasting my kids’ inherent wonderfulness -- unless it’s to tell that father that my son is reading The Iliad in, uh, the original Greek.

Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Does parental boasting bother you, or is it just part of the landscape?

Next week: The family that tattoos together . . . Last week: A toddler adjusts to “school”

  • November 1, 2009 cover
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