Katharine Hill, head of the charity Care for the Family, said many parents are so anxious not to damage their children’s confidence that they imply they are geniuses when they are not, which can put them under pressure to be “extraordinary”.
In a new book about parenting in a post-pandemic world, Mrs Hill said a generation of young people has been led to believe they can be or do anything, and will become depressed and anxious when they realise they cannot.
Parents tempted to overpraise their children during the pandemic to boost their mental health could be doing more harm than good, she warned, because children could end up believing their worth lies solely in what they achieve.
She said: “The belief that ‘I have to be extraordinary’ is a major driver of anxiety and one of the main factors affecting children’s well-being.”
Mrs Hill said TV talent shows, TikTok videos and Instagram reels turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and put children under pressure to do something special and stand out from the crowd in every area of life, not just at school.
She told the Standard: “All those things on TV such as Britain’s Got Talent, Love Island and The Apprentice have made everything a competition — even baking or falling in love is now a competition for our children. They need to know it’s not about striving to be better than other people. We need to take that pressure off them and help them discover their own unique gifts.”
She said parents should praise their children in specific ways, concentrating on their character, effort and attitude rather than their achievements. This will help them realise their worth does not lie in what they achieve.
“Of course, giving them praise and encouragement is important, but the key is how we praise them. This isn’t about settling for second best, it is about encouraging them to be the best ‘me’ they can be.”
Mrs Hill added: “Our ability to embrace and accept reality, with all its limitations and disappointments, is at the heart of emotional well-being. As parents, one of the most important messages we can give our children is that it’s okay to be ordinary.”