Free Markets, Free People


The False Self-Esteem Generation Are Now Parents

We’ve talked about the effects that false self-esteem is likely to have on children raised to think every little thing they did, to include failure, was “awesome”.  A couple of decades ago, some parents of the “me” generation adopted the false self-esteem nonsense Nathaniel Branden published in ‘The Psychology of Self-Esteem” (1969) which purported that the most important factor in raising a child was instilling a health sense of self-worth:

For decades afterward, children’s television shows reminded their young viewers that they were the most important people in the world. Teachers heaped praise upon even the most lackluster students, and little league coaches dispensed trophies to anyone who showed up to play. Criticism and competition became suspect.

That spawned the “all about me” generation. And that generation is now parents. As you might imagine, the way they were raised has had a less than desireable effect on how some of them approach the job of being a mom or dad. Christine Rosen has a long but fascinating article covering the topic. It’s worth the read and should stimulate some very interesting commentary.

~McQ

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • email
  • Print
  • Google Bookmarks

43 Responses to The False Self-Esteem Generation Are Now Parents

  • Do you have a link or reference to the Christine Rosen article?

  • In talking to education faculty and majors, I think there has been a backlash against the false self-esteem approach. Real self-esteem comes from learning that one can overcome obstacles and succeed. Real self-esteem comes from being able to accept failure without thinking it means one is lesser of a person. Real self-esteem comes from being able to accept not getting what one wants because what one wants is not related to ones value. Fostering that is important — and that means failure must be possible, people don’t get everything they want, and real obstacles are set that children/students have to overcome, preferably not on the first try.

    • We may be mixing some terms here. I think that real self-esteem comes from actually overcoming those obstacles and from actually succeeding. The belief in your ability to do so is a product of your level of confidence. The ability to recover from failure and try again can be a product of a number of factors, including confidence, maturity, and ambition.

      These factors may be related, but they’re not the same. I think that self-confidence can precede success but also be a product of that success. I think that self-esteem is almost entirely a product of success. It’s the difference between thinking that you can and knowing that you did.

      I don’t see a problem with trying to build up a child’s self-confidence, but I think it is ultimately futile and potentially harmful to try and build up their self-esteem via any other manner than allowing them to confront and overcome challenges. The real world dashes false hopes regardless of how unfair we think it is. Little Johnny has a mantle full of awards from his little league experience, but he flamed out pretty quickly when he tried to handle pro ball with his lack of skill and his surplus of self-esteem.

    • Erb: “In talking to education faculty and majors, I think there has been a backlash against the false self-esteem approach.”

      That’s funny.

      O, the rolling eyes in your classroom, Scott.

      But maybe false self-esteem isn’t the right term for making it up all day long without conscience.

  • This actually explains quite a bit about the Obama campaign and the campaigns of Democrats this last election cycle.

    By decoupling self esteem from ‘accomplishment’ one becomes dependent on others – particularly the government – to validate one’s success in life. Obama and his team made great use of the victim argument as well, to provide voters with a personal excuse for problems encountered in their lives.

    This seems to just another step in creating a dependent class of citizens beholden to the Democrat party for monetary and now emotional sustenance.

  • Well that’s just great — I actually have to agree with Erb. Thanks a lot.

    Most of you deal with adults (and your own children) who fall into the “normal” range of emotional behavior. I think what some of you forget (or don’t realize) is that there are many children who really don’t have self-esteem and they get stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of failure. I have to deal with hundreds of children every year at the height of this turmoil (12-15 years old), and most teachers are not trying to give a false sense of achievement. However, there are ways to build children’s confidence so that they don’t give up on their academic potential and don’t act out due to frustration.

    Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that efforts to build self-esteem are all bogus or unnecessary. If commenters want to start screaming about “false” self-esteem, then please try to be specific and not generalize to all parenting or education programs.

    • Getting to be a trend these past couple days ain’t it? And related to the education establishment too!

      It’s like…finding out there’s no global warming!

      • Well, I’ve been teaching and coaching for more than 20 years, and I can easily say that you’re much more likely to find a child with inappropriately low self-esteem than one with a false sense of high potential.

        • OK – but no one is saying there isn’t such a thing as low self-esteem. Instead what’s being posited as building false self-esteem isn’t useful in the long run, and may instead be detrimental.

        • you’re much more likely to find a child with inappropriately low self-esteem than one with a false sense of high potential.

          HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

          OK, first off, your sample is skewed. By teaching and coaching, you get proportionately more of the people you can help.

          The ones with a false sense of high potential end up in MY class, where they promptly get a B and then proceed to argue with me for 10 minutes that they can’t get a B because pre-meds don’t get B’s; or tell me that they’re entitled to their own interpretation of the chain rule which is just as valid as mine and call mine out in front of the entire class as “bull$#!^” (that’s an exact quote); or I spend an entire semester explaining to them, before AND after they get their F, that I really don’t give full credit for completing a problem correctly to its halfway point and I’m not going to pass them because their dimples are cute or their chair is warm. These are all real students I’ve had in my class, and I’m limiting myself to 3 examples because Q and O is not Professor Wacky Hermit’s Student Reminiscences Blog. In any given class of 40 there’s always at least one, usually a couple, and that’s just the ones who are inappropriately confident enough to come argue their grade with me. For every one of them there’s probably a couple more who get cut down to size in silence.

  • Nathaniel Branden may have popularized the term self-esteem, but my understanding from his books is that his requisite for self-esteem is that it be based on reality. It deals with self-acceptance of your current position in life as a necessary step to pursue loftier goals. I believe he is dismayed as anyone by the false self-esteem movement.

  • The article is as much about the parents – perhaps moreso – than the children, to wit:

    We’ve got a bunch of whiny, self-absorbed, selfish, spoiled brats trying to raise children in this country.

    I would say that the problem goes beyond the effect on children. Look at the mortgage crisis and the credit crisis. People had a vision of the ideal American life, and through easy credit, they could get it: a graduate degree, a big, new house in a new subdivision, a new SUV, a new sports car, a trip to Hawaii or Disney every year, and 1.7 children to go to private school, dance lessons, karate, and soccer practice. Children are just another stage prop to these people. The “hovering” or “hipster” behaviors are also stagecraft: parents are “expected” to behave that way, and so the generation of empty-headed, spoiled brats is doing exactly what they think is expected. NOT, of course, because it’s good for their kids (though, to some extent, it is), but rather because they are putting on an act for their family, friends and neighbors.

    I wonder what will happen to children accustomed to getting the latest and greatest toy for Christmas every year (even if their parents have to search every store in three states and even fight each other over the last one on the shelf) when they graduate from college and move into their first apartment to find that… everything they want is no longer served up to them on a plate.

    JWGDon’t fall in to the trap of thinking that efforts to build self-esteem are all bogus or unnecessary. If commenters want to start screaming about “false” self-esteem, then please try to be specific and not generalize to all parenting or education programs.

    Good point. I don’t think anybody is against encouraging a child and helping them overcome challenges and obstacles. What I and others object to is mindless rewards and approval for mediocrity and even outright failure, such as giving trophies to the team that finishes last. Also, I object to tearing down genuine achievement with the idea that praising the “best” makes everybody else “feel bad”; some schools apparently dispense with the honor roll for this reason.

    • such as giving trophies to the team that finishes last

      I actually think this is a good practice for the very young. However, there’s no way to know who the “last” place team is since the young leagues don’t usually track win/loss records. But I know from coaching soccer that the leauge’s goal is to get children to keep playing while they’re young so the older leagues have a larger pool from which to draw as the kids’ skills increase.

      Does any oppose the t-shirts that are given to 10K run participants? Small trophies or medals are the same thing. No child is given the impression that they are great athletes just because they get a trophy at the end of the season.

      • There’s nothing wrong with giving someone something for participating. But I personally don’t think you do a kid a favor by trying to reward an inferior performance at the same level as a clearly superior one. Even the kids see through that.

        It’s funny, parents worry about kids “self-esteem” if they’re on the losing team, yet the kids who play don’t seem to share the same concern – they seem to instinctively understand that in a game someone is going to lose. Ever watch ‘em rag each other playing video games? And none of them would accept the statement “you did just as well as X” playing the video game when it was obvious to the kid that he or she wasn’t even close to as good.

        Maybe it’s just me but I was brought up in a era where losing was reality, you dealt with it, learned from it and you used it to get better. And when you did win, or come out on top, or do better than you did, you actually felt a sense of accomplishment that *gasp* fed real self-esteem. It may not be as easy as declaring everyone “a winner” and handing out trophies willy-nilly, but it certainly has more lasting and beneficial effects.

        • ” Even the kids see through that.”

          Indeed they do. As I said before, kids aren’t stupid. They know who is good (or bad) at baseball, spellinjg, etc. Learning where you stand in the universal hierarchy is part of life. It doesn’t benefit children (or adults) to have an exaggerated sense of their own ability.
          Humility used to be a virtue.

      • JWGDoes any oppose the t-shirts that are given to 10K run participants? Small trophies or medals are the same thing.

        1. It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but I see quite a difference between a t-shirt and a trophy. One is a momento: you showed up. The other is an award: you did well. People understand this, else why give trophies (or bigger trophies) to the winners and not to everybody?

        2. The value of most things is directly proportionate to their scarcity. If EVERYBODY gets a trophy (or t-shirt), then the prize is effectively worthless.

        3. Even children understand when they’re being patronized. What is an award worth when a person KNOWS that he has done nothing to deserve it? (unless you’re Barack Hussein “The messiah” Obama, who deserves EVERY award for just being so gosh-darned wonderful)

        4. Awards are intended to not only reward superior effort and ability, but also to SPUR future effort. Why bother to work hard if everybody gets an award when all is said and done?

        5. Can I print myself up a diploma that says that I graduated from college with highest honors and replace my real diploma with it? How about I award myself a PhD? After all, what’s the difference between a diploma for a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate?

        JWGNo child is given the impression that they are great athletes just because they get a trophy at the end of the season.

        No, but they do get the idea that they’ve been given a booby prize, and the kids who really did excel get the idea that their achievement has been disparaged in some way.

        • If EVERYBODY gets a trophy (or t-shirt), then the prize is effectively worthless

          I’ve seen enough little kids get excited about getting a trophy to dismiss this statement as irrelevant to the real life of a child. A child’s mind does not think like an adult’s mind.

          Also, I know quite a few adult runners who get very excited about certain races because they like the shirts, and they are quite aware that they are not going to win the race.

          kids who really did excel get the idea that their achievement has been disparaged in some way

          Again, I have coached for 20 years and have 3 athletically advanced children. What you are describing is not accurate for the vast majority of children. Furthermore, when children advance in age and skill, they can participate in more competitive leagues in which winning is more important than participating.

          • “… adult runners who get very excited about certain races because they like the shirts,”

            That’s just sad. Unless you are talking about the Special Olympics?

          • I had a friend who trained and completed a triathalon.

            He did not win it, by a long shot, but I bet he felt a sense of accomplishment, and the T-shirt he got helps reflect that.

            I also read somewhere that if you praise a person for having a neat desk – even if its not neat, they actually will make the desk neater. Never could figure that out.

          • JWGI’ve seen enough little kids get excited about getting a trophy to dismiss this statement as irrelevant to the real life of a child.

            This is a bit of a straw man. I don’t think anybody here (and certainly not me) is saying that children shouldn’t get trophies. Rather, I say that they shouldn’t get them unless they’ve earned them through superior performance. I also repeat that nobody here (and certainly not me) is against encouraging children to try hard or giving a bit of praise for trying and failing.

            JWGA child’s mind does not think like an adult’s mind.

            That’s sort of the point: how children become adults, and what sort of “adults” they become. If children are given excessive / unmerited praise and rewards, what does this teach them? Part of learning to be an adult, however, is learning to deal with obstacles, adversity, and failure. Too many children seem to be learning that EVERYBODY gets a trophy, EVERYBODY gets a gold star, EVERYBODY is special, EVERYBODY is a winner. Hence, they grow up to be spoiled, selfish, immature drama queens of the sort Wacky Hermit describes (and I saw them, too, when I was teaching and taking classes at community college).

            Do ALL children do this? No, of course not, probably because they have parents who don’t think that little Johnny’s self-esteem is the most important thing in the world, and who understand that, just as punishment should fit the crime, reward should follow results.

  • Self-esteem was once what you got as the effect of meeting tests of character through virtue, i.e., “I handled that situation O.K.” See: “If” by Kipling.

    Now self-esteem is what you get instead of character, i.e., “I’m great because I’m me,” or “I can talk all day without saying anything because I teach this stuff.”

    Without virtue and conscience, self-esteem is meaningless. It becomes just a variety of narcissism, which is excessive self-regard and the live form of solipsism.

  • I think it is pretty clear that both Rosen and I are talking about false self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with self-esteem garnered the old fashioned way – by earning it.

    • Which is EXACTLY hoe Branden described it and spent thousands of pages doing it.

      Self-worth (I can…) begets accomplishment and pride which begets self-esteem.

      Focus on the support, not just on the term he gave it.

      NB could never get past the Christian right and the christian abhorrence of pride (…goeth before the fall – a false, preceding, pride).

      And conservatives can’t get past altruism (which is NOT benevolence) over Rand’s self-interest (which is NOT narcissism).

  • For those who fall into these archetypal categories, having children is no longer something people simply do.

    This is the precise opposite of how the author describes the “hipster” parent, however. The hipster, recall, is the one that doesn’t bend his/her entire life around the kid; rather, the kid is another element of a life well-lived. One doesn’t have to give up one’s hungarian folk-dancing, but instead integrates the kid into a pre-existing life.

    This is how our parents’ parents did things. Kids weren’t the end-all be-all: they were seen not heard, and one didn’t warp one’s life around to please the kid. (“If I’m a punk rocker or I’m really into Hungarian folk dancing…and that’s who I am, why should I have to leave that behind and raise my kid in some generic middle class American reality that doesn’t feel authentic to me?”)

    I think the author misses the boat, then, in failing to see hipster parenting as a challenge to the creepy child-centrism of the mid to late 20th century.

    • This is the precise opposite of how the author describes the “hipster” parent, however. The hipster, recall, is the one that doesn’t bend his/her entire life around the kid; rather, the kid is another element of a life well-lived. One doesn’t have to give up one’s hungarian folk-dancing, but instead integrates the kid into a pre-existing life.

      This is how our parents’ parents did things. Kids weren’t the end-all be-all: they were seen not heard, and one didn’t warp one’s life around to please the kid. (”If I’m a punk rocker or I’m really into Hungarian folk dancing…and that’s who I am, why should I have to leave that behind and raise my kid in some generic middle class American reality that doesn’t feel authentic to me?”)

      I like your train of thought on this, but I think you miss the boat a bit in 2 places:

      1) Our parents parents certainly did warp their lives for their kids. How many 2nd jobs were worked? How many families scrimped and saved to take Johnny and Sally to Disneyworld? How many families warped their lives for their kids by uprooting from their countries and coming here for a better life for their kid?

      2) The hipster certainly do warp their lives around the kid, just in a different way. They’re using the kid almost as an accessory, a way to validate everything about them. Of course my parents felt everything of theirs (music, fashion etc) was superior to what I liked growing up, but they never did the hipster thing and tried to give me the “mini-me”. If I wanted a shirt they thought was ugly when it was clothes shopping time, it was “you’re the one who has to wear it so if kids laugh at you you’re stuck with it for the school year”

      If anything, the hipsterism model is creepy. At least when our parents and parents parents were doing the raising, we had traditional roles where we all knew our place. Mom and Dad weren’t my “friends” (at least not until my teens)- they were in charge no matter how much I wanted to think otherwise. And believe me, they never let us forget it. I’m happier I had a Mom and Dad as opposed to them being “friends” and I feel sorry for a lot of kids today who can’t even begin to grok what that means

  • Doses of “false self-esteem” are like any drug. A little can help when given in small doses at critical times, but continuous doses can be harmful.

  • Even those of us who weren’t raised with false self esteem and aren’t raising our own kids that way either are affected by this terrible generation. These kids raised with an inflated opinion of themselves are now @$$holier-than-thou adults who take it upon themselves to lecture us poor defective parents on the importance of keeping our kids in carseats until their junior prom, and related topics. If our kid bites their Precious Little Snowflake, it’s a result of our defectiveness as parents and would have nothing to do with the fact that their PLS shoved our kid first, or even that kids that age sometimes bite and you can just matter-of-factly tell the parent about the incident and let him take care of it.

  • I keep wondering how and when your final degeneration will manifest, Bruce.

    “couple of decades ago, some parents of the “me” generation adopted the false self-esteem nonsense Nathaniel Branden published in ‘The Psychology of Self-Esteem’…”

    That’s the dumbest crap I’ve ever seen you write. Christine Rosen is a goddamned idiot, but I would expect you to know better. I might not expect you to understand Branden any more than Rosen does, but I might at least expect you to recall Dr. Benjamin Spock accurately in history.

    It’s really getting sad to watch you doing this.

    • Not as sad as hearing from the “anarchist” with a passport.

      • “I am the only free man on this train. The rest of you are cattle.”

        Go look it up, Colonel. And you keep getting cheeky, okay? I’ll bury you with your own words, which you’ve likely forgotten but I never have and never will.

        • Still deluding yourself I see.

          Can’t take anyone getting cheeky can you?

          Now be a good little anarchist and make sure to get your passport stamped.

          • “Can’t take anyone getting cheeky can you?”

            They have to be worth it, Bruce. You’re not anymore.

            “Now be a good little anarchist and make sure to get your passport stamped.”

            {hah!} You took great notes from the Usenet commies, man. Good for you.

          • They have to be worth it, Bruce. You’re not anymore.

            And yet here you are.

            {hah!} You took great notes from the Usenet commies, man. Good for you.

            Heh … sometimes the truth is just the truth.

    • Where the hell is Rodney King when you need him.

      I’m sure that it can all be traced back to Epicureans v. Stoics, but how American culture went from “spare the rod, spoil the child” to “spare the praise, spoil the child” probably boils down to soppy academicy do-gooders trying to tell people how to raise their children.

      The question has always been how to establish moral authority and then to instill moral conduct and character. That is strength beyond the mere physical, and I recall a high school classmate crumpled in a wheelchair with the death sentence of muscular dystropy who had more of it than the school’s top athlete.

  • Children are not just little adults. At a very young age, giving a trophy or t-shirt for participation isn’t seen as worthless, nor do the “winners” think somehow they’ve been short changed. They simply don’t think the same way at age six as they might at, say, age 12. While I agree false self-esteem is bad, making this akin to ideology — that it’s “sad” that very young children like getting shirts — shows me that some of you haven’t dealt with very young children. I don’t think anyone wants to take away competition, and I agree completely that false self-esteem is bad. But not only don’t you ridicule or deride children (that harms self-esteem), but you recognize that at different ages children think in different ways.

    • Children don’t need t-shirts, they need a clear sense of right and wrong and the character development through the exercise of virtue that goes with it. Of course a kid in Little League needs to be treated like a kid and not a major leaguer, but all they need in terms of pointer and reality check is the old Grantland Rice quote, “It matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

      Learn to give it your best and later learn the Lombardi maxim, when the elements of true character are in place.

  • Mr. McQuain,

    How dare you suggest that we offered our children extra awards and incentives even if undeserved. I never did that, but all my peers are certainly guilty of it. The first time I ever heard a parent describe his kids performance after a pee wee basketball game as awesome I was incredulous. The kid’s performance, like my kid was awful, but humorous. There are correct ways to encourage and improve a child’s self esteem and I don’t think describing their every act with a “awesome” is doing anyone, any good. Oh, by the way your article is awesome.

  • This is my first comment on the forum. I have read all of the posts for today on false self-esteem or confidence. It is my belief that working on our self-esteem is an ongoing process for most of us. What is false self-esteem? Is it not the tool that a lot of us use to convince ourselves that we are good enough? What our children need is their parents to accept themselves unconditionally. That being the perfect scenario, would we not love and accept our children naturally.

    • No – false self-esteem is built on false accomplishment. If you can explain how something false turns into something worthwhile, I’d enjoy hearing about it.

    • Self-esteem is an effect of virtuous character, not a cause of it, let alone its own cause.

      Self-esteem is not a substitute for fortitude and cannot emerge without fortitude, so teach fortitude.

      Nor is self-esteem a substitute for temperence, justice, and prudence.

      So teach temperence, justice, and prudence.

      Courage is the eclipse of fear, not self-esteem.

      So teach courage.

      Self-esteem emerges as a worthy effect from worthy and virtuous character.

      • Guys, I have had for some time now the ‘knowing’ that self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. It’s not accomplishments or gold medals, it’s that we are intended on this earth and worthy of being here just the way we are. The great thing about knowing this is that we do have the potential for virtuous character, fortitude, justice and prudence when this most essential part of our being emerges. I can see that we have a difference between our definition and understanding of self-esteem.