Behind the Myth That African American Children are “Lazy”

When I get home from work, he hasn’t done anything. The house is still dirty, and he’s laying around playing that stupid game. No matter how much I ask him or tell him that I need him to help me.”

I looked at the young man, and he stated, “I’m lazy, I guess.”

Slave children were devoid of childhood. Often their childish antics were met with severe punishment.  The slave master had unrealistic expectations, and the slaves pushed their children to reach these expectations. When children failed, the master punished them and called them lazy.

Slave masters pinned this label on our forefathers. Slaves pinned it on their children and on down to our parents’ parents, and then our parents pinned it on us.  People (even black people) today say, “You know how lazy black people are.”

Thus began a pattern that still exists in African American communities today. Too many African American parents set unrealistic goals for their children. When children are incapable of meeting their expectations, these parents label their children as shiftless and lazy.

We do not have to continue this pattern into the next generation.  We can stop setting unrealistic goals and train children so that they can reach high aspirations.

High Aspirations vs. Unrealistic Expectations

There is nothing wrong with having high aspirations, but unrealistic expectations can be discouraging and breed hopelessness, and defiance.

The difference between high aspirations and unrealistic expectations is preparation. Parents, who have high aspirations for their children, recognize that success requires training. They know they will have to prepare children for the goals they want them to achieve.

When a parent has unrealistic expectations, they set goals with no understanding of what it takes for their children to complete the objective. Then they treat children as if they are obligated to reach their expectations. When their children can’t attain these goals, parents label them lazy.

When parents set unrealistic goals, they do not take into account their child’s developmental ability, unpreparedness to reach the goal, and natural inabilities due to age or stage of development.  Instead, they focus only on the desired outcome. When children don’t reach their set goals, parents become frustrated and lash out. Many talented and gifted children are discouraged early in life because of the unrealistic goals set by misinformed parents.

The Outcomes of Setting Unrealistic Goals

When parents set unrealistic expectations, hopelessness may set in, and children give up trying to reach the goals parents set because they feel they can’t accomplish them. Some children learn to disbelieve what parents say. Teenagers, especially, become disobedient, defiant, and disrespectful towards these parents. They feel their parents are manipulating them.

Children are discouraged, and without some intervention, children remain on a path of frustration, anger, and, eventually rebellion.

One parent repeatedly told her children that when she was a child, her aunt’s mop was as clean as new white sheets. In fact, she suggested they could eat off the floor because the floor was so clean. She gave this talk every time her children mopped the floor. Try as they might, they couldn’t get their mop white nor the floor that clean. Eventually, they gave up trying to keep the mop or the floor clean. The parent, not realizing the effects of her words on her children, labeled them as lazy.

The truth is, when children are small, they’ll agree to almost anything to gain their parent’s approval. Parents’ behavior can destroy this simple trust. Expecting too much can quickly become discouraging for children. Unrealistic expectations can even cause children to give up the goal entirely or consistently do a poor job.

The Affects of Reality Distortion

The parent mentioned above was talking to children who were not physically as capable as adults. So, of course, their work was not the same quality as the work of an adult. They didn’t have the ability to reason through the tale their mother told and so they accepted and believed that they were just plain lazy, and they stopped trying.

The mother did not realize she was distorting reality. She repeated a story told to her as a child. The

intention was to inspire the children to work harder. Instead, her children felt guilty, inadequate, and then gave up. Distorting the truth to encourage compliant behavior does not work! It instills anger, discontent, and irritation in children.

Distorting reality is also a form of lying. Consistently being dishonest with children destroys trust and confidence in parents. If parents consistently use reality distortion as a means of getting children to do what they want, by the time they are teenagers, they will have little confidence or trust in parents.

During the teen years, lifelong decisions are made. Teens need to trust their parents’ counsel. Unfortunately, when parents use reality distortion as a way of manipulating their children, by the time they become teenagers, they are skeptical of parents.

What to do:

  1. Learn if your child can accomplish the goal developmentally before setting a goal. The child’s stage of development is critical to consider when setting goals for children. Due to children’s reasoning, physical, and emotional development, they may not be capable of performing the task. Ask, have I taught her how to do this task? Does she have the physical, developmental, and reasoning ability to complete this task?
  2. Train children so that they can reach high aspirations. The Bible gives us instructions on how to teach our children. For example, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” In other words, Invest time in teaching your children. It will pay big rewards.
  3. Do away with harsh inappropriate labeling. Children see themselves as you see them. Numbers 13:33 says, “And there we saw the giants of Anak, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Just like the Israelites facing the Canaanites of their Promised Land, if you see your children as lazy, they will see themselves as lazy. They become what you teach them to be.
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