Self Esteem: the Gift that Stunts Growth

Polimom says that she’s worried about her daughter and whether she’s been given too much self-esteem. She says:

It’s not just the parents, and it’s not just schools or academics, either. If your kid has ever been on a non-scholastic youth sports team (out here in Katy, soccer comes to mind…), you’ll recognize this:

Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

Then, referring to this article from the New York Magazine, she says:

If this new research is correct (and it resonated deeply with me), then it’s both good news and bad news… because while Polimom and Dear Husband can focus on how, when, and what we praise / reward at home, we cannot hope to get in front of the onslaught on AC from a well-intended, undermining society.

I have a lot of respect for PM – she’s very sharp and a good writer as well – but I have to say that her surprise at reaching this conclusion truly puzzles me.

I mean, really, how could anyone involved with today’s kids at any significant level NOT be aware of the gap between what these kids are being told they’re achieving and what they’re actually doing?

The evidence is everywhere. Just watch kids’ behavior and you can see how empty their minds are even as their mouths are utterly full of themselves. So many children have no basis for the esteem they hold themselves in.

This is hardly news. One can witness it any upscale suburban neighborhood: spoiled rich kids strutting the halls of schools like little kings and queens to whom the teachers owed their living, sullen sons of double-income families who despised their parents’ achievements, shiftless neo-Goth fools in drag sweating themselves to death in the hot Texas summer sun, none of whom could perform at grade level in most other modern countries. It’s even worse in urban areas where living up to the myth of the macho gang-banger is practically a necessity and being to one to burst a little machito’s bubble could be a fatal mistake.

Here’s a post of mine on the subject from almost two years ago. Note the link to Marlene Zuk’s great essay. Read it – she has profound insight into the matter.

Giving kids self-esteem is a worthy goal, so long as they actually deserve the praise. As a society we’d be far better off if we’d actually give children something to proud of instead of meaningless platitudes.

Kids are smart – they know the difference.

Author: marc

Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.