While self-esteem has always been a crucial element of the success of any child, the movement that sought to increase self-esteem in the next generation of adults by showering them with praise and telling them that they were “little princesses,” “geniuses,” and “winners” did little to nothing in terms of making children feel more comfortable and confident about themselves. In fact, this kind of excessive outward praise proved to be more debilitating for many students than the lack of self-esteem itself.
2010 Ohio State University study found that today’s college students crave this kind of praise above all else, even more than sex or money. The study was published in the Journal of Personality, and the results indicated that many of today’s young adults have a greater sense of entitlement than ever before. Jean Twenge, a fellow psychologist at San Diego State University, expands upon the results of similar studies and what it means to society in the book “Generation Me.” "What you really see is . . . it's this kind of empty self-esteem where you're supposed to feel special just for being you, that everyone's a winner and we should all feel good about ourselves all the time, which kind of ignores that self-esteem is usually based on something,” Twenge says.
All of this information begs the question of exactly how parents can actually help boost their child’s self-esteem. While praise does not actually help add to a child’s sense of self-worth, accomplishing things and achieving personal goals does. Achievement and goals are defined differently for each child, and for each age group, but there are two main things that parents can do to help: finding activities that offer the opportunity for achievement, and providing guidance and encouragement.
For younger kids, a sense of accomplishment could be derived from the completion of a craft, a coloring page, or even a board game. Sports offer greater self-confidence for children of all ages, and self-esteem is could also be derived from a good grade or exceptional performance in school for school-aged children. But goals should not all be centered around one type of activity. Psychologists emphasize that social activities, settling disagreements, and making friends are equally important. Children must learn effective social and relationship skills as well as intellectual and athletic skills.
Roy F. Baumeister, “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” Journal of the Association for Psychological Science. http://psi.sagepub.com/content/4/1/1.abstract
Maureen Salamon, “For College Students, Praise May Trump Sex and Money,” Business Week.
Richard Lee Colvin, “Losing Faith in the Self-Esteem Movement,” Los Angeles Times.
Michael Hurd, “The Error of the Self-Esteem Movement,” Capitalism Magazine.
Ms. McCollum works to help small business owners and internet marketers make the most of the Internet by using keyword-optimized content that drives traffic and increases conversions. She also provides information, resources, and mentoring to other freelancers and aspiring writers through the Writer Reality website.