Today I have two links to articles about parenting and self-esteem in our children. Many researchers and thinkers have been recognizing the negative effects of our society’s obsession with self-esteem, particularly parental obsession with the self-esteem of their children. It turns out that our “every kid deserves a trophy” and “every child is super-excellent-brilliant-gifted-exceptionally wonderfully special -especially my child” mindset is more detrimental than beneficial to our children.
A major study, The Origins of Narcissism in Children, out this week in the National Academy of Sciences (serious research!) suggests that Parents who “overvalue” children . . . telling them they are superior to others and entitled to special treatment, are more likely to produce narcissistic children — who can grow up to become narcissistic adults . . . The researchers point out that warmth, appreciation, and affection are far more effective in raising well-adjusted children than praise and adulation. When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism . . . But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem. You can read an interview with the researchers here and access the full research article here .
A similar message is offered in a recent article in Forbes Magazine 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. Here we are reminded of the importance of allowing our children to take risk, allowing them to fail, not rescuing them too quickly, and not raving about them too easily. The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.
Be challenged and encouraged. Love your children. Show them lots of affection. Be honest about their failures and shortcomings. Praise them when they actually merit the praise, but do not ever falsely and carelessly praise them.