“Whatever happened to Baby Jane?” It’s a fair question. Push your little ones, and they make childish advances on their world — if they survive the push. We may not know who killed Jon-Benet Ramsey, but we do know that her parents forced her into Shirley Templeism. Was there not a sense of national outrage toward the parents who forced their seven-year-old to become the first child pilot? The child crashed, of course, killing both herself and her father.
Pushing children to achieve creates neurotic children who in time become neurotic adults. Neurotic adults write books like Mommy Dearest. Children do not always resent this while they are succeeding, but such children learn quite young that it’s hard to get all the fame and recognition they want in life.
How subtle is the pressure.
Take those bumper stickers that read: “My child is an honor student at Wilson Elementary.” When the bumper sticker appears on the bumper of a ’93 Ford Escort it may indeed be a legitimate affirmation to a well-deserved middle-class child. But when it appears on a Lexus or a BMW, you can’t help but wonder if it reflects a prepubescent attempt to create little dead achievers. (There’s something disgusting and rural in the bumper sticker that reads: “My kid just beat up your honor student.” This sticker usually appears on a 4-wheeler truck with a gun rack and two fuzzy dice dangling from the rear view mirror. Such bumper stickers don’t create little dead achievers — merely little rednecks.)
Consider Drew Barrymore. She was pushed as a child and ended up walking ledges in her world of drug-abuse. David Heffalgotts’s father wanted to make a star and ended up pushing his son into neural collapse. Marjoe’s parents applauded the child evangelist into early stardom and swift moral failure. McCauley Caulkin’s parents ended up quarreling over their son’s money.
I passed a child beauty contest in a shopping mall recently and saw a horde of little girls — all looking like Jon-Benet Ramsey — with big black numbers pinned to their flounces and frills. I was aware that only one could win and the rest must lose. What happens to little girls who lose? After they lose a couple or three times they inevitably learn to see themselves as losers. Little children who see themselves as losers have a remarkable ability to become what the beauty contest proclaimed them to be — losers.
But what happens to the little girl who wins? She ultimately sees herself as a loser, too. Why? Because she can’t go on winning forever — somewhere she loses and the loss, or even the fear of the loss, will produce a cynicism that leads to a damaged psyche.
Who’s to say that little dead achievers aren’t hatched by the Barbie doll culture? Barbie and Ken ought to get arrested once in a while for embezzlement, or driving their $29.99 sports car while under the influence. The superstar dolls and superstar parents push children into dangerous ego needs that may be impossible to survive.
I, for one, like the kind of honest compliment that keeps children out of the superstar competition, but makes the honest stars — birthed by a loving mother and father who affirm and caress self-esteem right through the rib cages of the children they frequently hug. Such blessed parents have heard Jesus saying, “Allow the little children to come.”