Why did Anne Hathaway apologize? And is there a lesson for your kids here?

Anne Hathaway apologized after she wore a different dress to the Academy Awards than the one she had planned on. But can you blame her? Our kids are told to say sorry so much they, like Anne Hathaway, apologize for things they shouldn't. 

Associated Press
Anne Hathaway apologized for wearing this dress, which she hadn't planned, on to the Academy Awards. Why the heck would she do that? Saying you're sorry should be saved for moments that necessitate an apology, not to placate fools. Make sure your kids know the difference.

The Oscars are over but the apologies continue to eclipse the accolades, with Anne Hathaway’s hand-wringing, repeated apologies for a red carpet dress choice, while The Onion continues an equally hand-wringing “sorry” for bashing a child star on Twitter. These very public choices made me think about how many times my kids use the word “sorry” and reevaluate in what context apologies really belong.

It’s an age-old battle we as parents must continue to fight to teach our kids to take responsibility for their actions and words, making the apologies heartfelt, meaningful, and appropriate to the alleged crime. We try and prompt a child’s understanding of their impact on others, asking, “How do you think that made _____ feel when you did that?”

A Japanese pop star recently shaved her head and made a YouTube video apologizing for going out on a date. Minami Minegishi of AKB48 appears in a tearful mea culpa on YouTube after breaking her band's strict rules on dating, according to The Associated Press. Part of that is rooted in cultural tradition, but it is no less shocking to see the variation in how kids and adults apologize.

We might well ask ourselves how our approach to teaching children to apologize makes them feel. How scary are we when we’re demanding they realize their mistakes and then apologize? How much of our delivery makes them really understand, versus training them to apologize by rote?

Also, do we remember to teach our kids not to apologize for the wrong things like their race, religion, and body type? Do we teach them not to apologize to placate people who are angry with them for things they didn’t do wrong?

Some kids blurt the word ‘sorry’ over and over again in the course of a day to the point where the word is more like a sentence punctuation than an event.

I realized last night while shopping that my kids get their apologist natures from me. A woman bumped into me from behind with her cart as she concentrated on the shelf and not the way ahead. I turned around and blurted, “Oh, sorry!” She said, “No problem.”

Something is definitely not adding up here, I thought. Why did I apologize for getting bumped into? If I do that around my child what’s the message or lesson I’m passing on?

My 9-year-old son cried when a kid was mean to him. He recounted the incident and said, “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” while wiping away tears. He was apologizing for crying because someone at school told him big boys don’t cry. That’s not something he should be apologizing for. I have friends who say "sorry" to me about everything and anything to the point where the word has little meaning.

Yahoo’s Oscars blog has a link on it that reads “Anne Hathaway Dress Crisis,” leading to a featured article with the actress pleading forgiveness for wearing a pink Prada gown the critics had picked on in place of the Valentino she’d planned. That’s a good example of a case where apology is made as a shield against our critics rather than something we should actually be sorry for.

No doubt Hathaway is sorry because she’s been whipped in the social stocks for her dress being “a disappointment to fans.” It then spun out of control into the assumption the actress had “snubbed” designer friend Valentino, according to Yahoo News’ Oscar Blog.

Oh, and by the way, she won an Oscar that night, too.

There are times when we really must say "sorry," but only when we actually do something mean, nasty, unethical, abusive, bullying, or harmful to another.

A case in point is  a tweet by The Onion, a satirical paper, on Oscar night. According to the AP, The Onion posted a tweet calling the 9-year-old star of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" a vulgar and offensive name on Twitter.

The Onion referred to Quvenzhané Wallis with an expletive intended to denigrate women, the AP reported. "It was crude and offensive — not to mention inconsistent with The Onion's commitment to parody and satire, however biting," The Onion CEO Steve Hannah wrote on Facebook. "No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire. Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry."

At least The Onion got the apology right, whereas Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman, apologized for wearing blackface to a Purim party at his house after at first defending it, the AP reported.

He defended it with rationalizations worthy of a child forced by parental pressure (in this case it was the public and media being the parents) to say “sorry” to someone when he clearly feels put out by having to make the gesture.

Last night’s Daily Show had Jon Stewart running clips of Hikind’s irritated scowl as he tried to rationalize away his choice as something “everybody does” when they dress up for the Jewish holiday. Stewart noted people are intended to dress up as Biblical figures.


The one thing that is hardest for us to handle as parents may be the times we owe our kids an apology. I found a great guide for parents on how and when to say “sorry” to your child here.

It tells you to try and see your action from the child’s point of view and imagine how your child felt when you said something that may have hurt their feelings. After all, a really good apology is about the other person and how we make them feel.

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