by michael on December 1, 2010

 I was procrastinating completing an article I have been avoiding for days by clicking on one blog or website after another in my constant search for enlightening thoughts and avoidance of duties. All the while I anguished that I was not exercising proper discipline to do what needed to be done.

Then I found this article by Dennis Prager: Want To Raise a Good Person? Stop Nurturing Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Prager identifies the origin of the self-esteem movement to California Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, a 53-year-old legislator.

Here are some sections, not all in direct sequence, from Prager’s article:

“This belief — that increasing self-esteem among the members of society will increase goodness in society — spread through the rest of America like proverbial wildfire.

It turns out, however, that the premise was entirely misguided. There is no correlation between goodness and high self-esteem. But there is a correlation between criminality and high self-esteem.

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.

But it turns out that feeling good about oneself for no good reason — as destructive as that is — is not the biggest problem.

The child-rearing expert, psychologist John Rosemond, recently opened my eyes to the even more troubling problem: High self-esteem in children does not produce good character, and in fact is likely to produce a less moral individual.”

The real money quote from Prager is this paragraph:

“If Baumeister is right, and violent criminals have higher self-esteem than most people, and if Rosemond is right, and people who do not grow up with high self-esteem are more likely to be among the finest human beings, then society has the strongest interest in not promoting self-esteem among children. Society’s sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem.”

I coached the soccer teams of my two daughters for a combined fourteen seasons. We won more games than we lost, but some of our losses were valiantly fought and some were painful due to the poor performance of our team.

Losing really didn’t seem to bother the girls. Doing badly bothered them. Being out maneuvered by an opponent did—that my defensive back couldn’t stop the opposing forward from scoring several goals. There was never an issue of self esteem. Some players were better than others; some teams were better than others.

I am sure that if, after a loss or a poor performance, I had saqid to any of my players something like, “Don’t feel bad. You did fine,” they would have felt that I was patronizing them; that I was being dishonest. If I told them that they played a great game when they knew they did not, they would have seem me for what I would have been: a fraud.

The girls had complex attitudes and emotions when they lost or when one of the girls did not perform very well. They were disappointed; they were deflated, as one might expect, but they generally concluded that they needed to work harder to improve. In some instances, the girls—even in third and fourth grades—knew that soccer was only a peripheral part of their lives and they had a healthy perspective about winning and losing.

If I had said to any of my players something like, “Don’t feel bad, you’re still a nice person,” they would have been insulted, and rightly so. One even has nothing to do with another. .

Prager’s article reminded me of an article I read a few years ago. I searched my files and found it: Enough Already with Kid Gloves by Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.

I share a few of Sommers’ segments:

“Educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even “frightening”  and one principal recommends using only “pleasant-feeling tones.””

“They want to create an atmosphere that is “positive and reinforcing rather than harsh,” “a kinder, more gentle education system.””

“They want to protect children against “even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure.””

“Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball—hurts feelings; prohibit tug-of-war—too hostile; no more game of tag—the school principal explained, “In this game, there is a ‘victim’ or ‘It,’ which creates a self-esteem issue.””

“Even juggling a ball poses risks. A former member of The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports suggests using silken scarves rather than, say, uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. “Scarves,” he points out, “are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly.””

“Parents should take a careful look at an article in the January issue of Scientific American that debunks the self-esteem movement. (“Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.”) The authors, four prominent academic psychologists, conclude, “We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.””

I have seen first hand the relationship between criminality and high self esteem. I specialized in criminal defense law the first seven years or so of my law practice. Almost every one of the defendants I represented believed that he or she got caught as a result of bad luck or a bad friend rather than their stupidity or the intellect of the police. Almost every one of the defendants justified their criminal behavior. No one thought of himself as bad or evil.

I endorse Prager’s conclusion without qualification. Teach good character, self control, discipline and forbearance and don’t worry about your children’s self esteem. It’s over rated and, evidently, is counter productive. Raise moral children and let the self esteem follow. And if it doesn’t, apparently it’s no tragedy.

More later.

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