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1423Self-Esteem: Good or Bad for Kids?

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  • Charlotte Reznick PhD
    Mar 6, 2007
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      Dear Community,

      Is Self-Esteem Good or Bad For Kids?

      There have been so many confusing and conflicting reports on whether
      self-esteem has been bad or good for kids this week that I'm
      exhausted trying to keep up. Stories have been all over the news, the
      Internet and TV. If you google the subject you'll be reading for
      weeks. And here are some more thoughts...

      It all started (again) with a research study, the lead investigator
      being Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, giving over
      16,000 college students a narcissistic questionnaire (the
      Narcissistic Personality Inventory, NPI) back in 1982 through 2006.
      The results of the study were made public pending the release of her
      book in paperback. Its merits are still being considered for a peer-
      reviewed scientific journal.

      If you haven't already read any of the articles around, then here are
      some of the basics.

      1. NPI scores have risen since 1982. By 2006 two-thirds of the
      students had above average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.

      2. College students answered questions such as "I think I am a
      special person," "I can live any way I want," and "If I ruled the
      world, it would be a better place.

      3. The researchers say these kids are "narcissistic" but not
      "clinically narcissistic" so they don't all have to seek counseling.

      4. Students' more positive responses on the NPI are equated with
      higher self-esteem, a tricky assumption to make because it depends on
      your definitions. Wouldn't a more comprehensive definition of self-
      esteem include feeling good about yourself because you know the value
      of responsibility, hard work, character, and the common good? In
      fact, the California Task Force on Self-Esteem in the mid 1980's
      created a document outlining just these characteristics (the opposite
      of what Twenge would call narcissism) as being part of what self-
      esteem means.

      5. The study's results support the idea that higher self-esteem leads
      to "negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of
      close relationships with others, reacting aggressively to criticism,
      and favoring self-promotion over helping others." And that it leads
      to more crime, higher teen pregnancy, more drug use (see Twenge's
      earlier findings at http://advancement.sdsu.edu/marcomm/news/releases/
      fall2001/pr110701.html.

      6. The researchers conclude that problem stems from the beginning
      self-esteem movement in the 1980's and telling our kids they are
      special. (See my comments in #4 above re what the movement really said.)

      These last two assumptions are hard to swallow. Twenge quotes
      different research to support the study's conclusions. Other
      researchers quote opposing stats. For example, an article by authors
      Neil Howe and William Strauss on the Op Ed page of the LA Times March
      2nd (http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-oe-
      howe2mar02,1,4078512.story) point out just the opposite trend.
      "Millennials have much greater regards for each other, their parents
      and the community than other Gen X's or baby boomers had at the same
      phase of life." Howe and Strauss go on to quote statistics that
      support their viewpoint and directly oppose Twenge et. al's saying
      crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse all have actually lower not higher
      rates today for those under age 25 and volunteerism has gone up.
      (Twenge dismisses the higher help rates by saying kids are just doing
      it to look good on a college resume.)

      I wonder if we go along with Twenge's suggestion and stop telling
      kids they are special, is that really the answer to many of society's
      problems? I don't believe such a flip response is the answer. There
      are so many layers to this issue.

      For our youngest kids, parents’ thoughtful praise is critical -
      their view of themselves comes from their parents, because parents
      are their world. They haven't developed the skills or experience to
      nurture or appraise themselves. And too many kids just hear what they
      are doing wrong, not right. We want our kids to develop an inner
      sense of self, and perhaps always hearing they are "great" from
      outside sources doesn't ultimately do what we'd like it to. That is,
      to develop an inner sense of worth so kids can comfort themselves
      when they need to, realistically appraise what their talents really
      are - where they have to work harder, where they can help others, and
      what they want their place in the world to be and work toward that goal.

      It seems wise to praise for trying to do their best, not just
      achieving the highest honor. CBS News reported on Dr. Carol Dweck's
      research at Stanford University, which supports praising effort.
      "Dweck conducted experiments on fifth graders. After a test she
      praised one group for being smart" and "another group for the effort
      they put in." In a later "much harder exam, the kids who were led to
      believe they were smart folded. But the ones who were praised for
      trying performed much better." Research about "learned hopelessness"
      also shows if you don't think you can achieve something, eventually
      you won't even try.

      All this fuel for the fire presents an opportunity to evaluate the
      study's broad implications for our children, the effect of throwing
      the "baby out with the bathwater", and how we think / feel about this
      subject overall. What is important to you? What values do you want
      children to develop? How are you helping them become the person you
      believe and hope they can become?

      Why not make your own determination about the good and bad of self-
      esteem when you consider the children in your life? How are they
      feeling about themselves, and how are those feelings affecting the
      lives they are leading? Are they saying they are feeling good, but
      teasing or putting other kids down at school? Or are they reaching
      out and standing up for the kid who is being teased? Have they
      developed enough empathy and self-responsibility to understand that
      what they say and do affects others, and act positively on those
      traits? And if you don't appreciate what you see in their behavior,
      then teach them what matters - your value system. And remember kids
      learn best by example, so be true to what you believe in.

      Please share your thoughts and feelings on this latest Hot Topic on
      my Blog at http://imageryforkids.blogspot.com/.


      Warm regards,

      Dr. Charlotte
      Charlotte Reznick Ph.D.
      www.ImageryForKids.com
      Healing children through the
      power of their imagination.
      (310)889-7859


      Charlotte Reznick Ph.D. specializes in helping children and
      adolescents develop the emotional skills necessary for a happy and
      successful life. She is a licensed educational psychologist and
      Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. Dr. Reznick is
      the creator of Imagery For Kids: Breakthrough for Learning,
      Creativity, and Empowerment and is the author/producer of the
      therapeutic CDs "Discovering Your Special Place" and "Creating a
      Magical Garden and Healing Pond". An international workshop leader on
      the healing power of children's imagination Dr. Reznick maintains a
      private practice in Los Angeles, California. For more information
      about her articles and CDs, visit www.ImageryForKids.com,


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