Self-Esteem: Good or Bad for Kids?
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-
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/
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
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/.
Charlotte Reznick Ph.D.
Healing children through the
power of their imagination.
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,
NOTE: To Unsubscribe, just hit Reply and put Unsubscribe in the
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]