It sometimes seems that Parents, en masse, are not as well liked as they could be. And of all the unpopular parental online behaviors, the least popular may be The Brag. It is indeed a truism of the internets that parents have a terrible tendency to spill goo and glory about their young, and that being forced to encounter these triumphs on a daily basis is highly unpleasant. Without delving too far into the question of why people are so annoyed by hearing about children’s successes (ie Jealousy, fear of failure, discomfort with seeing the fruits of a life path they are not on for whatever reason), there is the oft-ignored fact that bragging is generally socially undesirable. Basic propriety seems to be suspended when it comes to talking about one’s children.
In today’s New York Times, writer Bruce Feiler acknowledges that bragging is one of the pleasures of parenting. Surely there must be a way to indulge without driving other people insane? In a call for better parental bragging etiquette, Feiler offers a list of handy rules to help parents be more respectful of others and generally less annoying.
A couple of his suggestions:
1. Brag about how good a child you have, not how good a parent you are. Adriana Trigiani, the best-selling author of “Big Stone Gap” and “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” says she’s most annoyed when parents trumpet their child-rearing skills instead of their good fortune. “I’ve noticed when parents brag, it’s usually a reflection of their wonderful parenting skills and not their child’s natural abilities,” she said. “When I see people like Donald Trump on TV taking full credit for how his children turned out, that’s the kind of bragging that gets under people’s skin.”
2. Brag about effort, not accomplishment. One of the signature parenting ideas of the last few years — praise effort not achievement — applies equally well to boasting. Brad Meltzer, who wrote “The Fifth Assassin” and two nonfiction books about children, says he doesn’t mind if parents talk about their children’s passions. “If you say, My kid loves reading,’ that’s O.K.,” he said. “If you say, My kid is the best reader in his grade,’ I start the hate machine.” He added: “It’s the difference between murder and manslaughter. It’s all in the intent.”
He goes on to suggest parents should temper their gloating with a dash or reality, or even negativity, to avoid seeming overly perfect or fake. But these rules are not foolproof. Feiler quotes author Laura Zigman, author of “Animal Husbandry”, who says, “for braggy parents, even the counternegative might end up being boastful. As she wrote in an e-mail, “My son got an A+ in Sanskrit … but he still can’t write his name in Mandarin!! #dummy!” or “His room is so messy he’s going to discover new particles of matter in it someday! #MIT-bound.” The result, well-known as the Humblebrag, is arguably a greater source of irritation than flat out praise-singing.
Really, the big takeaway is that parents need to think about not just what they want to say about their children, but about what it will feel like for other people to hear it. To that end, I’d add one more rule to his 9, and a few more questions to ask yourself:
10. Before you post, imagine what it might be like for a person who’s not hopelessly in love with your child to encounter the information.
- Is the achievement exceptional—if not in the general scheme of things, at least for your child?
- Is there any entertainment value?
- Might it feel hurtful to others who were involved in the same activity and did not do as well?
Ignore these considerations if you must. But do so with the understanding that you might not be eliciting quite as many Likes as you’d like. And perhaps with a moment of thanks that Facebook has yet to develop an “eye-roll” button.
Photo Credit: Elidr