Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stupid empty self-esteem

When our girls were young, we purchased some educational software for them.  It was a series that had a CD for each grade, and was not only fun to play but taught them quite a bit too.  They loved using these programs.

But one aspect drove me nuts, and it drove the girls nuts too.  One portion of the software allowed the girls to create a scene by dragging clips onto the screen and placing them wherever their imagination led them.  It was a rather nifty and fun game and they created some neat landscapes, farmscapes, cityscapes, etc.  But randomly throughout the process, the peppy narrator on the CD would say "Good job!" or "You must be related to Rembrandt!" or "Wow, you're amazing!" or similarly inane and irksome compliments.

This feature bugged the girls, because even at the tender ages of five and seven they knew darn good and well such expressions were merely empty praise.  The feature bugged me because I've never subscribed to all that stupid, empty "self-esteem" baloney that has so deeply infiltrated the public school system.

So this morning I read a very interesting piece by Dennis Prager called "Stop Nurturing Your Child's Self-Esteem."  He quoted a study which found that a healthy and (most critical) unearned self-esteem can actually be injurious to societyy.

"The 1960s and '70s ushered in what I refer to as the Age of Feelings," he writes.  "And one of the most enduring feelings-based notions that came out of that era was that it was critically important that children feel good about themselves. High self-esteem, it was decided, should be imparted to children whenever possible – no matter how undeserving... One result of all this has been a generation that thinks highly of itself for no good reason. Perhaps the most famous example is the survey of American high-school students and those of seven other countries. Americans came in last in mathematical ability but first in self-esteem about their mathematical ability."

This beautifully illustrates my point.  C'mon folks, what on earth is "self-esteem about mathematical ability" if you can't even do the blinkin' math problem?

Silly as this may be, the issue gets darker.  Turns out some experts are now saying "High self-esteem in children does not produce good character, and in fact is likely to produce a less moral individual."

You want to see a well-balanced and confident adult?  Show me someone who has earned it through the School of Hard Knocks.  Character is built by overcoming fears and adversities.  Confidence is built by handling and overcoming failure and setbacks.  If we don't allow children to fail because "we're all winners" or let them learn from mistakes because "there is no wrong answer" or whatever, you're doing them a grave disservice.

But if a child's ego is bloated by a bunch of empty hollow praise that follows him all throughout his formative years - if he's never allowed to "lose" in sports, for example - then what is there to strive for?  He's already the best of the best, isn't he?  So he walks around, cocky and cocksure because hey, he's always been told he's terrific despite doing nothing to earn that compliment.  According to recent studies, this attitude can translate into a sense of entitlement and superiority that can ultimately lead to criminal behavior.

Somehow that doesn't surprise me.  I know some people whose children are heading in that direction.

Please don't misread this to mean I don't believe children should be praised.  Of course they should, when they've done something praiseworthy.  But for pete's sake, let them learn from mistakes too.


  1. Amen! My daughters learned growing up that they had to earn the "win". When we played board games or even an occasional video game they always knew Mom was gonna try to beat them and they had to actually beat me to be the winner. Let me tell you, when they did beat me it meant more to them.

  2. Anything received without being earned ultimately becomes a blight on society. Whether it be the misguided attempts to
    increase someone's self esteem through
    undeserved praise or the welfare state,
    these social engineering programs are not helping anybody and in fact they are hurting all of us. Self esteem should be earned, so should a paycheck.

    Anonymous Patriot

  3. When we were kids, you had to "try-out" for the team. I didn't make it several years in a row (heck all of middle school!). I was devastated and determined. I worked so hard...and made it into first place after 3 years of trying!! Never will I forget the feeling of great satisfaction that went with it. Pure delight!

    I was amazed to find that today, kids don't try out for all sports. They simply make the team. But I think you said it better than I ever could have. It is good to fail because it makes success that much more sweet!

    Great post!

  4. Hear hear! This reminded me of the year I was asked to donate $5 so the parents could buy the 4TH PLACE girls softball team a trophy. When I asked, "what did they win?" I got treated like I had kicked a puppy. Kids should be encouraged to work hard, to become more skilled at whatever task they are attempting....but the reward should be intrinsic in a job well done and is cheapened by false praise and shiny trinkets.

  5. I love my children. They are my world. Absolutely noting could surpass nor replace my adoration for them. They are perfect in my eyes, win or loose. But I'm their mother. Nobody else cares a fig for them. They're noisy, dirty, needful, and don't watch where they're walking. Isn't it grand that God gave mothers the instinct to see perfection in their children?
    The trouble is, it's Mom's job to teach her children to be presentable and useful to the rest of the world so everyone else will have some respect for them. In uncivilized countries orphan children are left to die by the side of the road. Mother Theresa made a life of trying to save them.
    Praise their progress, their achievement, their potential in order to encourage continuance. But make sure they know that without achievement and progress, they have the potential of becoming just another "throw away". The world is a dangerous place, especially for children.

  6. I recall reading something on the line of affirmative action being at the base of much "black rage" . I wonder if the same sort of phenomenon is at work in the culture with children/teens and unearned high self-esteem. Basically the one being patronized gets a clue eventually and realizes that no matter how hard they try the question will always remain "are these accolades real or just an empty show/am I being patronized again"?
    The rage is real, and to a certain degree deserved. No one wants to be patronized, even two-year olds!

  7. Truer words were never spoken Patrice!

    There have been many times over the years that my husband and I have been criticized by well-meaning, sappy, bleeding heart individuals that felt like we were too hard on our daughters. We have always expected excellent behavior, good manners and respect for everybody and themselves from both of our kids, even from a very young age. We eat dinner together every night, and any problems that arise are discussed and solved together as a family. We never tolerate discord, sniveling or whining in this house and have even gone so far as requiring both girls (from a very young age) to work in our family contracting business right alongside my husband.

    AND (brace yourself) we turned off the TV in 1991 and haven't turned it on since.


    Oh, the protests from people we knew! You are abusing your children they screamed! They are JUST KIDS you know yelled others.

    I can't say they are perfect, but I am very happy to report both girls have turned into polite, respectful, hard working young people with very lofty goals and ideas for their futures. They can both outwork most adults and have hefty savings accounts they have earned themselves, mostly straight A's and our older daughter runs a chiropractic center with 3 doctors and 4 massage therapists, plus she tests this coming weekend for her Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.

    We have our problems the same as everyone else, but our kids were raised to understand their place in the grand scheme of things and it was NOT at the head of our household or at the center of our universe.

  8. Throwing God out of school and replacing Him with a feel-good-first environment has resulted in a pogrom of national character and intelligence. The result? Multi-generational hoards of shallow minded, self-centered, barely literate, grossly intolerant sociopaths. Their lack of moral footing and inability to think analytically are the prime reasons we find ourselves in the dire situation we face today. They can't distinguish fact from opinion and are totally convinced of their entitlement to any and everything they want...NOW...simply because they want it.
    The fact that there are as many as there are who escape this morally bankrupt condition to emerge whole is a testament to the goodness and strength of character of their upbringing. In these lie the hope of our nation...and the world. Reading the posts of my fellow readers here are more than a breath of fresh air...they are the hope of the future.
    (And yes, you read correctly in line three of this post: POGROM. It's a word with which we should all be familiar. It's the operational intent behind our present government, and we ignore it at our peril.)

    Gosh. I'm just a bundle of the warm fuzzies today, am I not? lol


  9. I simply can not believe it when parents allow their children to scream at them or speak to them in such rude and disrespectful ways. Children that get smart or whine really get on my nerves but the parents are the ones that really make me angry! I don't get to whine like a brat when I am having a bad day. Training your child to do that or letting them think it is acceptable is the beginning of a life of misery for parents and children. Of course, what do we expect from a society that has Black Friday events where people are trampled just to save some money. We reap what we sow.

    But on a good note, just today as I was walking out of the grocery store with my 6 children the door greeters told me that my children are always so well behaved and respectful. I told him that is my hard work showing. And it truly is. If parents are willing to put into a child everything they have to raise that child then they will be rewarded. My 20 year old daughter is proof of that. We differ in some ways but she respects us as her parents and is simply a delight to be around.

    People, please raise your children right! We don't need anymore mindless robots or sheeple for the government to control!

    Ouida Gabriel

  10. amen patrice...and now many of those children with superior self esteems are unemployed, and wondering if they will get another extension on their benefits...they will soon be getting the experience of a lifetime..how to survive on their own with little or no preparation.

  11. A.McSp - thanks for increasing my vocabulary. I had not heard of "pogrom" until your post. I looked up the definition, and thank you for the education. Although I had long thought that was the plan, I didn't know there was a specificc term for it.

    Keep prepping, the other shoe is going to drop next year. Soon those with loads of self esteem will find that they can't eat it.

    Anonymous Patriot

  12. "...this attitude can translate into a sense of entitlement and superiority that can ultimately lead to criminal behavior."

    And why not?

    If they are constantly given what they haven't earned, how in the world are kids supposed to know they can't simply take what isn't theirs?

    Bill Smith

  13. WOW! What a bunch of terrific comments! Patrice, you and those who read your blog are the kind of people I want to always be around. (Well, most of them, anyway. There have been a few who need to go crawl back under their bridge.) I, too, read Dennis Prager's column "Stop nurturing your child's self-esteem" and I then sent the link to everyone on my address list. What you and Mr. Prager say is so true, and what our progressive leaders are doing to our children is so false and WRONG! But most of us would never realize these things if it weren't for people like you. Thank you!

  14. How well said. It's kind of funny that my son called a few days before I read this to tell me about something he had to do to one of his college students who he knew had not done the math work required for that day. Boy, talk about killing self esteem! He made the student come to the front of the class and then told him to show the rest of the class how to do one particular kind of problem over which they were to have done their homework. The student tried to say he'd forgotten how, hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that he didn't do the homework because he thought it was too hard. The class laughed and my son informed them all they they would be getting up there as well, to show how to do other particular problems. They all grabbed their books and started studying while my son worked with the one student on his problem. The lightbulb went off and gleefully the kid showed the rest of the class how to do the math. He thanked my son after class. Could it be that he learned something in spite of the embarrassment?????!!!

  15. Another great post, Patrice! I just love it when these kinds of topics are given blog time (telling it like it is!), since we certainly don't "pretend" about things around here!

    I cringe when I see the behavior of most children (young and old!) in retail stores or out and about in public. What a life of misery these parents have set up for themselves and their children.

    Great comments, too!

    Mara :)

  16. Thank you. You're verbalizing what I've thought all along. The problem with self-esteem is "self". What we ought to be teaching our children, is how to respect others. Isn't that what we all really want, to be respected? Respect however, cannot be demanded, it can only be given. And that has to be taught.

  17. This is great. I will never forget when my first baby was about 2, my grandma was here with me for a few weeks to visit. She told me one day, "Honey, don't always compliment her. You keep telling her how pretty and smart she is, and she'll never have a chance to figure it out on her own!" I can remember thinking that she was out of her mind. After all kids need you to boost them up all the time right? lol!! Oh, the lessons learned! lol! Turns out she was exactly right. You better bet that 6 kids later I know EXACTLY what she was trying to tell me! :) Thanks for sharing! --S

  18. THANK YOU!!!!

    I realize I am late in coming to this post, but it's worth it. YOU NEED TO PUBLISH THIS.

    Self-esteem IS important. But it needs to be REAL and EARNED by being praised for successes and for learning while being held accountable for foolishness and taught to learn from mistakes.

    I grew up in the 80s, the "self-esteem generation." I was not a particularly pleasant or adept child. I had a mom and a grandma who were pop-culture followers, dispensers of "self-esteem" as the solution to everything.

    What that grew was a child who had no accurate scale for self-assessment, could not tolerate criticism, and did not know how to learn from mistakes (could not even be sure what was indeed a mistake). That would have been a rotten way for any kid to grow up-- doubly rotten when it's an Aspie kid who makes LOTS of mistakes and KNOWS she ain't the best thing since Pepsi in a can.

    To this day, I struggle to accurately identify my mistakes, to separate deserved criticism from outright meanness, and to learn from my errors without someone to point out the lesson. On top of that, I can't tell empty compliments from ones I have earned...

    ...and so even praise that I have earned is meaningless to me.

    So much for healthy self-esteem. They meant well, but it's looking like I'll be in the ZERO self-esteem camp for life.

    Thank God I also had a father who didn't subscribe to that garbage. If I hadn't, I'd be even more messed-up today.