"HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE?" Francis Schaeffer

Friday, November 04, 2005

Self Esteem: fugedaboutit!

Psychologist Helen Smith, better known as “the Insta-wife” reviews and comments on James Lileks book, Mommy Knows Worst; Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting.

We now tend to shower our children with praise for the smallest of things, lest they suffer from low self-esteem. Yet most of us are not aware that self-esteem has little correlation with socially valuable behavior. In fact, high self-esteem and narcissism have been linked to violent behavior in kids. We are also reluctant to discipline children, except with "time-outs" which rarely seem to teach children much about the consequences of their behavior. Schools have few resources to discipline children, so they are now sparing the rod and bringing out the Ritalin. Even food seems to be used as a pacifier in the classroom and in daycare centers. Try asking your six-year-old what he or she had to eat during the school day and at day care: usually there is a long list of party foods, snacks and soft drinks. These foods often are used as reinforcers for good behavior or to calm the kids down. No wonder so many of our kids are obese. There are even times when the appearance of "getting tough" on kids backfires. Some research shows that kids who go to boot camps for juvenile delinquents re-offend at a higher rate than their peers.

I “abandoned” pursuing self-esteem in children about 25 years ago.  It appeared obvious that what Helen Smith said was right;  it just builds narcissism which leads to character disorders which leads to crimes, broken relationships and a host of societal ills predicated on one’s belief that the world must revolve around ME!  

I think that the field of psychology has more or less come to recognize some of the problems with the whole “building self esteem” thing.  Parents have been slower to catch on to the change.  They still think that if they verbally praise their little demon for each and every semi-positive phrase or gesture this will solve the child’s problems and give them good self esteem which will enable to  achieve to their fullest.

Actually, the only thing that builds true self esteem is success in one’s endeavors.  If you work hard and accomplish something, VOILA; you begin to believe you can do a thing.  And that’s good.  Simply being told you can do “a thing” doesn’t make it true.

ADVICE 4 THE DAY: Parents, quit telling your little rug rat what a genius he/she is.  Instead, if you can help them work hard at something and make progress in their mastery, that will lead to real self-esteem.  Then it’s up to them.

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