How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes

A friend who is a child psychiatrist actually admitted to that many years later: that she secretly thought they were parenting superstars until their second child disabused them of that notion!


I wonder how much of the science here can survive replication. Overall the rate of successful replication in Psychology appears to be under 40%, and Child Psychology is a relatively tough branch of the field in which to carry out controlled experiments. Studies can span decades, and you can’t get away with just paying college students a $5 Starbucks gift card to sit in a dark room and watch a screen or torture one another.


I still live by Larry Wall’s Three Virtues

  1. Laziness
  2. Impatience
  3. Hubris

My opinion on the matter is that despite parents best intentions they’re rarely equipped to deal with children and much less with their mental development and well being. My parents were comfortably middle class and they were very loving though strict on particular things, you could say i was the problem child while my older brother was more chill and eager to please. Despite how different we are and how differently we were disciplined both of us deal with anxiety and depression, something my parents weren’t equipped to deal with. My brother is more sensitive so thankfully as an adult he’s gotten therapy at the behest of my parents, but me being the independent stubborn one i have opted to work out my issues on my own.

I don’t criticize my parents for any particular failings, but i do wish things had been different. All i can say is that for current and future parents please ask for help and resources on how to best deal with your particular children, treat them with respect and talk to them.


I was a hardcore alcoholic by the time I was 17. I say that to show I had no guidance form my parents. So when I got my girlfriend pregnant while still an alcoholic at age 21 I had no idea what to do but we did get married. I quit drinking a year after our daughter was born and then I did everything I could to not screw her up like I got screwed up.

37 years later we’re still married and our daughter is the most well adjusted grand kid my parents have.

We parented by example. We were very conservative on some things and very liberal on others. We had a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol until she reached 21. But… we always explained exactly why. We hid nothing about our youth and the mistakes we made and wanted her to avoid.

We were warned that when she did hit 18 or 21 she would go crazy but no such thing happened. She’s happily married, they both have excellent careers and I couldn’t be prouder.

They are both comic con nut jobs though. Can’t decide if that’s a win or a fail.

Point is, the way you raise good kids to be good adults is by example and communication. Once she was old enough to understand we never gave her rules without explaining why the rule was in place. It wasn’t always a walk in the park but it was fun and rewarding and we’re so happy we got married.


All of this qualifies as „don’t be an asshole in more than the most superficial way“. Not caring about one’s child being an asshole means not caring about one’s child‘s ability to function well in society and life. Which most definitely makes one an asshole.

Few things get me riled up as much as some dipshit parent telling me they are unable to discipline their three year old. If that is actually the case you should be put under custodianship, not raising a child.


Three easy* steps!

  1. Parent to their personality. You can see really early what kind of personality the kid has, and a sensitive flower needs different handling than an adrenaline-fueled acrobat.

  2. Talk to the kids. Talk to them, not at them. and then listen.

  3. Participation medals encourage assholiness and entitled arrogant behavior. If you don’t need to strive, why would you? For some, this leads to finding their niche (hi, Victor Tugelbend and @Mungrul), but for most it leads to a mistaken belief that all they have to do is show up and the riches of the world will be showered on them.

I have an unpopular opinion that us Boomers boosting self-esteem by giving everyone a medal and telling them how special and wonderful they are and imposing no discipline led to a generation of Karens and Qanons. Our hatred of our parents’ parenting boomeranged and led many of us to allow our children to bloom unattended, then, realizing that we needed to Be There, started the helicoptering. All because we thought we shouldn’t beat our kids. It went too far.

/*easy to spell out, hard to do.


Surely it’s horses for courses. Different kids respond differently to different strategies. I suspect with twins it’s really difficult because if one child responds well to an intervention it gets frustrating that the other doesn’t, and one can envisage how generally negative strategies become the norm for the “bad” kid.


Ha! Yes! I’m convinced that most parenting books are written by people that have had a selection bias with their children sample.


I agree with your first two points, but far less on the last.

I’d argue that treating everything in life like a competition has done far more damage than treating sports at the elementary age as something that’s fun to do rather than a pathway to competitive sports. I think you can show kids that there is a time and place for competition and a time and place for cooperation. Our society leans too far in the direction of the former and absolutely discourages the latter.

I never got “a participation medal”… I got mocked mercilessly for being shitty a sports. That has a far worse impact on many kids. It did not “toughen” me up, it made me constantly question my self worth which I still struggle with to this day. Maybe if an adult had reached out and told me that my worth was not wrapped up in being better than the next guy, I wouldn’t have to struggle with this now… unfortunately for me, and lots of other kids, we got told we were worth less because we were “bad competitors.”

I’d also argue that physical abuse of children is likewise unhelpful, but i don’t think you’re arguing in favor of that.

The reality is that humans NEED to be loved and accepted and if you can’t get that from the people who made you, then you have a very hard time with self-esteem and other issues as an adult. Unconditional love is absolutely necessary for raising a human being. That doesn’t mean letting them do whatever they want, because boundaries are necessary too. It does mean being honest with them, loving them when they screw up, and supporting them, even if they’re not competitive. :woman_shrugging:

BTW, most Gen Xers were raised with lax parenting too. Many of us were latch key kids, because we had divorced parents.


That was the point. To me, it looks like all of us Boomers who hated competition and suffered from it tried to make up for it by just giving awards/rewards to everyone.



Growing up as a gen xer, that was not my experience, no. I know I’m not the only one either. An overly strong focus on competitiveness generally speaking ends up in bullying.

I also think that your last point sort of contradicts your first. Will some kids thrive in a competitive environment? Sure! It does help them bring out their best. But it’s not the case for all kids. Some kids DO need a bit of sheltering and don’t do well in highly competitive environments. They just need other means of bringing out their abilities and for many that’s cooperation, not competition. As you said in the first point which I entirely agree with, we need to parent to their personalities.

You also said that you felt the whole participation medal stuff was a major cause of qanons and karens, and I don’t think I agree there, either. For one, none too few of these are boomers, although I suspect it’s not a function of generational cohort and it does seem to cut across generations… I think our larger systemic problems of racism, misogyny, and our modern media landscape have far more to do with that than kids getting medals for showing up. their sense of entitlement comes from the systemic ills we’re still dealing with rather than from treating sports like a fun thing to do…

So you know, I didn’t want to imply that you don’t believe that. I assumed you do! I just wanted to put that point out there… :grin:


Is there good research on the psychological affects of participation trophies? It is a favorite thing for Boomers to complain about concerning millennials but I personally am dubious about the supposed psychological effect that it means that millennials are somehow more entitled and actually find it laughable that boomers consider millennials more entitled than themselves. It also seems to me that there is real benefit to teaching the value of “just showing up”. I’m not sure that participation trophies actually does that, either, but I’d be interested to know if anyone was ever able to show any results for this. It’s possible that participation trophies make kids less likely to want to “just show up”.
(Also, I still think that there are just going to be some kids who want to participate, some who want to win, and some who want to stay at home and read a book and that a trophy is highly unlikely to do anything.)

I have a suspicion the origins of participation awards were intending to recognize each child for their individual strengths instead of only singling out the winner. It got diluted and misapplied into generic, meaningless awards…which you point out weren’t really a thing either.

I see a lot of these well intentioned ideas that become actively harmful when they hit mainstream. I was reading that “time out” was only meant to give a context change so the child can get some distance to understand why they were upset. Instead it’s used as something that’s punitive and isolating.

Kids see race from a very early age and are very tuned in to social hierarchies. They are like little detectives trying to figure out how social categories work in the world and why.

This makes me think of the heartbreaking “doll test” studies from the 1940s.


I actually think the hyper competitive environment is what creates the Karen phenomenon.

From my own memory I once got picked on because in an Easter egg hunt I was finding eggs and giving them to other kids. Cute huh? Except apparently it was something you were supposed to win.

I realized I had been an idiot and resolved never to help another kid again.

Nothing is simple.

I think we don’t have a problem with participation trophies so much as a problem with needing literally everything to have a “winner” and a “loser” to the detriment of society.

Fuck trophies. IMO parents who need trophies of any kind to show off are narcissists who raise assholes because IMO a good parent would just be proud to have a living healthy child.

If a child is good enough to make money doing something professionally then let the scouts and agents look for them. Other than that if it were up to me (and of course it isn’t and never will be) there would literally be no reward other than the satisfaction of doing something well.

But what do I know. I decided to “win” at the parenting non-assholes competition by not having children!


Check This Out GIF

I just have the one, who is about to start college… we’ll see how I did!


The way we get our three year old son to do anything is to turn it into a competition. We do worry it’s problematic, but when he needs to go to bed, it’s just so much easier to turn it into a race than anything else. I suspect he’ll thrive in a competitive environment. We do work quite hard on the not being an arsehole too, so hopefully he’ll turn out ok.


As @marence said, we need to do what works according to their personalities. If you works for you, then it works. :+1:

I think as long as you model compassionate behavior and encourage that in your kiddo, it will balance out. And of course as they move from thinking in concrete terms to more abstract ideas, you can certainly talk about a healthy kind of competitiveness that isn’t toxic to him and those around him. Plus, you can focus on how time and place matters. Not everything SHOULD be a competition and as they grow you can certainly point out when competition is not appropriate and when it is…


I got participant awards a few times and I knew they were meaningless, but that’s sort of what’s good about it - I am competitive, I set the rules for success in my own mind and it helped me develop my independence. However, the kids that are helped by getting a participant award still get it. The only problem comes when grown ass adults and bullies turn on the people getting the participation ribbons that are happy to have them.


That’s another thing… people give kids far less credit on sussing out stuff like this.

Right? As if everyone should be highly competitive in all aspects of life. Capitalism really has poisoned all aspects of human society, hasn’t it?