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.