Is Building Self Esteem in Children a Good Idea?

Is Building Self Esteem in Children a Good Idea?

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  1. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, are deaf and blind or have been dead for several years, you can’t have helped but notice the self esteem craze that has swept through this country.  How many times have you heard a parent tell their kid, “You can be anything that you want to be?”  I’ve heard those words from my own lips, and it wasn’t until later—when I really thought about—that I realized what a crock it was.

    If that were true, then every aspiring actor would be an actor, and not aspiring.  Do you have any idea how many wannabe actors are waiting tables in Los Angeles?  Most of them!  And how many actually get paying jobs?  Very few.  How many can make a career out of acting?  A small percentage of those who get paying jobs.  In today’s world of fame-seeking, about three quarters of the population would be leading actors, top-selling rock performers or President of the United States if we could all be whatever we wanted to be.

    The cold, hard facts of life dictate that we cannot all be whatever we want to be.  In fact, damn few ever become what they dream of becoming, often from a lack of trying but more often from a lack of ability. I believe that everyone is born with innate abilities, talents if you will, or at least certain aptitudes.  People with the strongest inbred talents are often very good at one thing—and only one thing.  Some people have two things that they are very good at, and others will find that they are pretty good at many things, but a master of nothing.  We call such people jacks of all trades, and where would we be without them?

    I personally believe that it is dangerous to overinflate a child’s self esteem by making them believe they are capable of virtually anything, because once they graduate from high school—where most of the teachers tell them the same thing—they will either discover in college that there are many other students who are better than they are in subjects in which they thought they were brilliant, or (more likely) will find rejections in the working world unbearable.  After all, if this kid is the best, as his folks had told him repeatedly, why would any employer want to hire someone else? Furthermore, kids absolutely convinced of their superiority are more likely to pick on their fellow students. The last thing we want our kids to be is a braggart or bully.

    Then there are relationships.  What happens to that boy’s ego when his first girlfriend dumps him for another guy?  If he’s absolutely convinced that he’s the best—as his parents taught him—then how can he prepare for rejection?  How can he possibly accept that his girlfriend could find anyone else more appealing than he is?

    I have no statistics to back this up, but I believe that this self esteem kick is largely responsible for the dramatic rise in teen suicides.  I believe that kids who had been convinced of their status as the best just can’t cope when they suddenly discover that it was never true.  Their world shatters around them and the future appears pointless.

    Moderation is the key, as with most things. Kids need to know they are special to their parents, and there isn’t a good parent in the world who does not believe this of their children. We need to make them feel loved and teach them that, wherever their talent lies, they have a bright, hopeful future and should endeavor to reach the goals they set for themselves. But do them a favor and don’t tell them they can be anything they want to be, because it’s one of the worst lies a parent can tell their kid, nearly as bad as telling them they are worthless. Too much self esteem can be as damaging as a complete lack of it.

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