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Bursting the Self-Esteem Balloon – Part 2

charlie_1This the second post from Charlie Margolis regarding how overinflated self-esteem and excessive praise affects our children.

Pedagogy today is far superior to what – for those who are old enough to remember – teaching was like when no one cared how we felt. Unlike the “good old days,” stellar students do not receive all the attention while those of less academic achievement are ignored. Learning disabilities are recognized and remediation is provided. Every child is expected to learn. However, this came at a price. Told that virtually everything they did was “good,” students began to believe the hype. Contrary to Galileo’s celestial science, each successive generation of students became more convinced that the sun does, indeed, revolve around them.

Language influences thought in subtle and overt ways. What we used to call self-confidence has been swallowed into the black hole of self-esteem. Defining self-esteem is like trying to hold air. It is supposedly a generalized feeling of self-worth and worthiness. In the early days of the movement, it was characterized by the acronym IALAC – I Am Loveable and Capable. Children were – and still are – told they can be anything they want to be. Unfortunately, that is simply not true. Everyone who shows-up for high school is expected to attend college, whether or not they can read, write and compute. Students are passed on to the next grade even if they have not mastered the material. Tracking was dissolved in favor of homogeneous grouping to preserve self-esteem. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner postulated a well accepted theory of multiple intelligences. The gist of it is that each of us is endowed with different innate abilities. To me, auto mechanics is like “rocket science.” Then again,” rocket science” is like “rocket science.” We need electricians, cooks and roofers just as much – maybe more – than stockbrokers and corporate raiders.

In his column, “I Just Work”, Rex Huppke discussed generational differences among employees. He noted that millennials – a segment of the population born between 1980 & 2000 – entering the work force, seem to have difficulty with personal interactions. A millennial told a story of how her boss had “yelled” at her. She was asked if the boss raised his voice or used profanity. “No,” she answered. When pressed to explain what she mean by “yelling,” she said, “Well, he was really firm and disagreed with me”. This brand of unrealistic thinking and inability to tolerate even the most benign kind of criticism is typical of children educated under the umbrella of self-esteem.

Self-esteem, like everything else is desirable, in moderate doses; too little and an individual is defeated by the slightest resistance. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that he/she will fail. Interestingly, an overabundance of self-esteem has the same effect, for different reasons. It used be that psychologists told students that bullies lacked self esteem. Subsequently, research revealed that bullies hold themselves in high regard. In other words, they feel empowered to do as they please, at the expense of others. High self-esteem is often associated with anti-social behavior. The child who had been showered with praise by parents and teachers is likely to overestimate his/her abilities. Again, research indicates that high self-esteem students tend to underachieve. Their sense of entitlement makes them believe everything they do is worthy of praise. Thus they do not put forth the effort or demonstrate the tenacity necessary to accomplish highly challenging tasks. Self-esteem is often confused with self-confidence which must be earned through practice, failure, trial and error. Generally, successful students are focused on the task at hand, rather than themselves. The traditional ideal of humility has been displaced by a “me first” attitude.

If you want to learn about a child, watch how he/she treats other children. Are they kind or dismissive? Do they share or exclude? Do they defend or attack? Are they humble or do they seek attention? Like a building under construction, a healthy sense of self is built brick-by-brick.

Eventfully, all balloons deflate because they lack substance. Nothing builds confidence like earned accomplishment.


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