Too much self-esteem?

Turns keeinetkea
out children are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. Maybe a little too good.

As reported on the website Connect with Kids (, a  study by researchers at San Diego State University found that high school seniors are bursting with more self esteem than a generation (or two) ago. For example, in 1975, 49% of them believed that they will be successful at their job. Today, 65% do.

It’s nice to feel confident and instilling that “World, here I come!” attitude is actually a Free Range Kids goal. But (there’s always a but) instilling baseless self-congratulation is not. And I have to admit, it’s a fine line figuring out when to say, “What a wonderful letter you wrote for grandma!” and when to go, “Do you think you could possibly put one OUNCE of effort into your thank you note?”

It’s not just parents busy dealing with praise inflation, either. The other day I was on a field trip with my fifth grader to a museum all about the American Revolution. The guide had the class study a painting of Washington and his troops, and then she asked, “What do we see in this picture?”

Up went a hand: “Queen Elizabeth!”

The guide smiled encouragingly. “I don’t think the Queen was here in America…”

You don’t think so? Jeez– I KNOW so. So should the kids! That’s what the field trip was for, right? Learning some history. The Queen was NOT in this picture. In fact, there were no WOMEN in the picture. In fact, it was a picture of MEN fighting a WAR in AMERICA against a KING who, by the way, was not married to Queen Elizabeth and who also was NOT in the picture because he was back home in ENGLAND.” God forbid we should roll our eyes and say, “Hey kid — back to the history books!”

Although that may start happening soon. My sister-in-law lives in a school district to end all school districts in suburban Chicago and the superintendent there, Eric Twadell, is worried about the same issue: Too much praise for too little anything. In an editorial in the high school magazine (glossy as Newsweek) he wrote, “For too many years educators have worshipped at the altar of self-esteem theory, wrongly believing that if we simply help students feel better about themselves, their reading, writing and arithmetic will improve. Nothing could be further from the truth.”


It’s not that I’m all for instilling low self-esteem. I don’t believe in squashing egos or squelching the curiosity. Encouragement is good. But maybe the antidote to meaningless praise is not a surfeit of discouragement but more opportunities for kids to really succeed at something, instead of just being told how great they are.

That’s where Free Ranging comes in. A kid who goes and gets the family’s groceries really has done something in the world. Ditto, a kid who makes the dinner. Ditto a kid who goes and brings grandma her card instead of just scribbling a note and having mom drop it in the mail.

There are a lot of things kids used to do that garnered them the kind of self-esteem we have taken to artificially instilling with pats on the back for not-very-special “specialness.” Send kids back out into the world with tasks to complete, new situations to navigate, even those old fashioned trees to climb and self-esteem will come as naturally as bug bites and bumps. That way when we say, “Good for you!” we’ll mean it.

And they’ll know it.   



62 Responses to Too much self-esteem?

  1. Michelle January 10, 2009 at 6:25 am #

    “For example, in 1975, 49% of them believed that they will be successful at their job. Today, 65% do.”

    I’d be curious what percentage of that 65% is of the entitlement attitude that the employer would be lucky to have them. I have a friend who does hiring for her company, and she constantly comes home with stories about kids out of college who start making demands about when they’re taking days off, what their starting salary and job title will be, and when they come in to work, etc.. It’s insane.

  2. Denise January 10, 2009 at 6:27 am #

    Again, another instance where we try to help our children, and instead do them a huge disservice.

    We should praise our children, and praise them often. We should encourage them to do their best. But we shouldn’t lie to them and tell them something is good, when it isn’t. Being honest and kind is always going to do more good than being dishonest and gushing.

    Our school district has done away with the “minus” in grades because children might feel badly about themselves. Please.

    It’s okay to fall down. It’s the getting back up that determines character. Our children are a lot tougher than we give them credit for.

  3. Will January 10, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    This reminds me of the Simpsons episode where they segregated the elementary school, and Lisa ended up posing as a boy so she could get a real Math education, rather than a ride on the “self-esteem engine” that she was getting on the girl’s side.

    Now, the episode wasn’t really about self-esteem . . . but it sure touched on the idea that, if you’re just plain wrong, you need to be corrected, and your feelings can pretty much go hang.

    On the other hand, I’d rather not have a teacher standing at the front of the class with a finger on a Price Is Right Buzzer and the other hand clutching a dunce cap every time I misspelled a word.

    There’s correction, and then there’s humiliation. But most schools these days are, yes, shying so far away from humiliation that they’re neglecting the correction part.

  4. BMS January 10, 2009 at 7:08 am #

    I am one of those terrible moms who doesn’t automatically praise everything my sons do. My son is an incredible artist and a pretty good woodworker. But recently he did a really half-arsed job on his pinewood derby car. He complained that it wouldn’t roll straight and I told him, “You rushed through it, and put no time and effort into it. It is not your best work.” I could tell that he agreed with me, even though he was pouting about it. He will probably be downstairs over the weekend, revising his design, if I know him.

    When he does an awesome drawing, I frame it, hang it in my office or dining room, and show everyone, and he is proud of it too. But he also knows when he is just being sloppy, and he knows BS if I spout it.

  5. BPFH January 10, 2009 at 7:28 am #

    Denise said: “Our school district has done away with the “minus” in grades because children might feel badly about themselves. Please.”

    My high school did–and I am not joking–“Self-esteem Week” when I was still there, 20 years ago. Then they decided that the week hadn’t improved our self-esteem enough, so they added on another one. I’m still trying to figure out what they thought they were going to accomplish.

    Mind you, they did give it up after the second week, when some people (*whistles innocently*) went around the school with masking tape, putting a circle-and-slash “no” sign on every paper self-esteem sign that’d been plastered up that they could find…

  6. Andromeda January 10, 2009 at 7:36 am #

    Of course, the opportunity to really succeed at something means the opportunity to really fail at something — another thing I think is important, useful, and implied by the free range philosophy — but a terribly uncomfortable idea for many people.

    I wish to goodness I’d had the chance to fail more growing up.

  7. Merlin Silk January 10, 2009 at 7:39 am #

    This is so true and there is one more element that poor kids of good looks have to suffer without any remedy.

    A while back I blogged about this in my article The Curse of the Good Looks which makes the point that if you have a just too good looking kid he or she gets so much praise for no own accomplishment that it can mess them up pretty badly. I actually have started to object to everybody being gaga about the good looks. Look what it brought Marylin Monroe.

  8. Michelle January 10, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    This reminds me of something I saw posted on one of my scrapbooking forums.

    A mom was at the park with her daughter, and the daughter was extremely proud that she figured out the monkey bars, and was going back and forth on them. Mom #2 shows up with her kid, and kid #2 hasn’t figured out the monkey bars yet, so was a little frustrated. Instead of encouraging her to work harder, etc, Mom #2 says to her daughter, within earshot of Mom #1, “It’s ok honey, maybe so-and-so’s mom will tell her to get off the monkey bars so you don’t feel so bad.”

    Fortunately mom #1 had the correct response which was to just stare at mom #2 and continue to tell her child to stay on the monkey bars, but WOW.

  9. John January 10, 2009 at 9:10 am #

    I just found your website. I love it! I have two kids 3 & 7. Keep up the good work.

  10. Tanya January 10, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    I’m soooo glad you wrote about this. Praise is wonderful, but I often ask myself if the high praise is something warranted…’Oh, thank you sooo much for throwing your own diaper away’…um, once they’re able to, shouldn’t it be a given. Shouldn’t children find some pride from within? Most praise I hear sounds false and overexuberant….for things that should just be done.

    I’ve also loved reading all the comments. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Casey January 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    “maybe the antidote to meaningless praise is not a surfeit of discouragement but more opportunities for kids to really succeed at something, instead of just being told how great they are. ”

    Preach it! My kids (we are “free-range learners”) have confidence in their own abilities–because they’re had the chance to actually do real things in the real world. There’s a tremendous difference between earning something and having it handed to you, and I think most children recognize that unless adults blur the line for them.

  12. Stuart January 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    “Do you think you could possibly put one OUNCE of effort into your thank you note?” – saying rubbish like this is an excellent way to get ignored. You don’t get respect by offering none.

    There may be a fine line between warranted and unwarranted praise, but there is a giant one between offering a worthwhile critique and being a nagging fishwife. Being able to give a person criticism without making them feel like dirt is a skill worth cultivating – if you actually want your feedback to be taken seriously.

    Not offering praise isn’t denigrating a person – insulting them is. One will have a chance of being accepted, the other will be universally rejected.

  13. Rob C January 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    It’s not just kids, either; my children’s mother was excitedly telling me yesterday how she’d actually – wait for it – mopped the kitchen floor!

    It was like she expected a medal and a parade or something.

  14. David January 10, 2009 at 8:43 pm #

    I think it was a Futurama episode where they made a joke about grade inflation. in the future, someone is given the worst possible grade…. an A minus minus!

    I used to work at a museum. With an answer that is reasonable, but incorrect, we tell the kids exactly that – that the answer is a reasonable one, it’s a good guess, but not right. When you get an answer to a question that’s SO wrong (like the Queen Elizabeth answer), you have to wonder if the kid is being snarky or if they are really that dumb. And in that case, you have to be really careful about how you answer, if nothing else than for litigation purposes. You can’t even answer assuming the kid is being snarky and laugh… because what if the kid is being serious and you laugh at their answer? You can’t say it is a good guess, because that makes you look dumb. I’d say this docent didn’t know what to say in this situation, and tried to be as safe as possible. Probably the best answer without having anyone (including the kid) think they were being insulted would be to just have said “No, I’m sorry, try again.”

  15. sally January 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    Like my son’s teacher had to tell some parents, nobody is going to jump out and pat him on the back for stopping at a red light, so why should we continue to praise for silly things that are givens.

  16. Cynthia January 11, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    David- If we have to be worried about being SUED for laughing at some kid’s dumb answer, we have bigger problems in this world. Also, I think that if a kid answers “Queen Elizabeth about a picture full of men, you ought to be able to assume he’s being snarky. I don’t believe you should humiliate people, but I also don’t believe that humiliation should be grounds for litigation. Good grief.

    Lenore, that’s for speaking on this subject, it’s one dear to my heart, as is your site.

  17. Cynthia January 11, 2009 at 1:16 am #

    I meant “thanks”, and Andromeda, I really liked your comment, too. You are completely right that there is no real success without chance of failure. I might add that you can never truly succeed while being propped up by someone else (parents doing their kids’ homework, anyone?)

  18. Joan January 11, 2009 at 2:23 am #

    I try to keep the balance with my kids. My step daughter doesn’t seem to have a good dose of reality to go with her overblown self esteem. She seems to think her 2.2 GPA and no other activities are going to get her into the college she wants. I try to bring her back down to earth. Next year’s applications should be interesting…..

  19. Stacey January 11, 2009 at 5:37 am #


    I could not agree more, and I hope this pendulum swings back in the other direction. I agree that crushing the spirit is unproductive at best, and severely damaging at worst, but I also feel that the self-esteem “movement” took things way too far. There’s a lot to be said for the value of failure. There’s even more to be said for the value of getting back up and trying again. There’s probably the least amount of value in doing something right the first time, and its even worse to be praised for NOT doing something right the first time!

    As a teacher and a parent, I see kids these days as more fragile, less open to criticism, and less able to jump to the next level of knowledge UNLESS they have already been taught the necessity of hard work, occasional (or sometimes frequent!) failure, and persistence.

  20. Dominique Gracia January 11, 2009 at 5:49 am #

    I couldn’t agree more on this, and it’s the same in the UK. We’ve seen dumbing down of qualifications and an easing up of exam standards because for kids to actually get the failing grades they deserve would just be… well, not the Labour Party thing to do! Same with encouraging shoddy institutions to dole out “degrees” for very little achievement.

    It makes for poorly educated people who can’t survive in the real world.

  21. Lara Starr January 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    “I’ll help you with things you can’t do – not things that you can”
    My son is sooo sick of hearing this from me, but I’m trying to use it as a guiding parenting principal, and give him lots of opportunities for genuine accomplishment.

  22. Tammy January 11, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    hmm My son had a last minute karate testing. Last minute as in, I’d just realized it had been a YEAR since they tested him. This is one of those “we’ll tell YOU when he’s ready” places (thereby you pay forever & never get anywhere!) He’d not practiced board breaking & I inquired & was told he wouldn’t have to test for it. Lo & behold they make him try to break a board which he could not. He was embarassed of course. He was given 3 tries by the rules. They finished the testing, sent him back over to try FIVE more times & still it never broke.
    He got a trophy in board breaking anyway! Needless to say, we don’t go there anymore. My son doesn’t need a trophy just for showing up.

  23. BMS January 11, 2009 at 10:56 pm #

    Sometimes failure is a downright necessity for advancement.

    My sons had routinely resisted swimming lessons, or went but screwed around. Yet in their minds, they were swimming studs – they knew how to swim. Then they went to a YMCA day camp last summer, where they were tested and put into the lowest swimming class. They were pretty humbled by the experience. This fall, when I asked them if they wanted to do swimming lessons, they said yes, and they have really, really been working on it and advancing. But it took the minor humiliation of being one of the very few kids in the ‘nonswimmers’ group to motivate them.

  24. Hilary January 11, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. Our kids need things that they can really suceed in that we can go WILD with the praise. We have a whole elementary school in our district built around praising nothing. My husband teaches at the HS and we haven’t been impressed with many of their graduates. Some are great — but some really think they should be gettin’ the praise for every little thing.
    Not so much when you’re 16.

  25. Jennifer January 12, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    This has been a problem for a long time. I think it really took off in the 90s (the 80s, when I grew up,were not nearly so “child-centric”) and now a lot of those who were little or born in the 90s are becoming ill-prepared adults.
    I took a child care class in high school (during the 90s), and they taught us that you shouldn’t say, for example, “No throwing rocks!” You should rephrase it so as not to hurt their fragile little egos. Say, “Rocks aren’t for throwing, okay? Wouldn’t you rather throw this ball?”

    And Stuart, come on, there wasn’t a single insult in that sentence. Maybe it could be less snarky, but seriously, if my son crumbles at the slightest bit of sarcasm or exasperation, then he’s never going to survive the real world, where people will not always phrase their words so as to avoid “offending” you.

  26. Grimalkin January 12, 2009 at 5:12 am #

    My father and I were talking about this just the other day. He used to teach at the college level and he changed his career because he wasn’t expected to teach. Instead, he was expected to hold his students’ hands and praise them. In theory, he was an English professor. In practice, the classes were more like free range discussion groups, allowing the kids to come to all their own conclusions without any historical or theoretical background from the professor. The result was, of course, a whole generation of kids who graduated with degrees in English having read a couple nice books and that was that.

    I experienced much the same thing in my first year an University. To reduce drop out rates, my school had started a programme called “first year seminar.” Basically, this is a support group for students to meet new people and make friends as they transition from High School to University. It was absolutely awful. We studied grammar that everyone should have learned already, and we talked about “current issues.” I was paying through the nose to listen to the opinions of a bunch of under 20-year-olds. I could have had the same experience for the price of a beer if I had gone to the campus bar.

    It’s a little off-topic, but it speaks to the same issue. It’s the idea that we must nurture our children’s minds into growth without first providing them with knowledge from which their opinions should be formed. It’s the idea that a kid’s opinions are worthwhile regardless of how factually based (or not) they may be.

    Does it make kids feel good? Sure, but only in the short term. As soon as they meet their first real challenge, or the first boss who yells at them for getting the wrong answer, all that work building up their self-esteem is broken. Not only that, but they won’t know how to cope with it and will feel crushed. And when they do achieve, they won’t feel good about it because praise will feel empty (since all the other praise they’ve received HAS been empty). And not only does this kind of ridiculous confidence-raising attitude fail in its goal (long term), it also fails to adequately prepare kids for what the real world will be like once they turn 18 (22, if they decide to go to college) and are expected to actually work hard.

    That’s not to say that they should be beaten down all the time. I’m all for constructive criticism (“well, this part of your project was really good, but you could do that part differently”). I’m also all for giving praise when it’s due.

  27. Stuart January 12, 2009 at 5:30 am #


    Failure isn’t valued in western society, it’s treated like an embarrassment. That is a huge mistake (which proves than failure isn’t *always* a good thing) – I’ve certainly learnt more from getting it wrong than right. Nobody tells their kids: “take risks and make mistakes” but they should.


    Do I think the quoted statement is the best way of dealing with the situation? No.

    People will always be more than happy to offend you – and how much attention do you pay to their words as a result?

    My point is very simple, if you want your point to be ignored, then go ahead and be snarky (sarcasm generally requires more than the blunt cudgel of the nag – so I disagree with your classification of the quote).

  28. Grimalkin January 12, 2009 at 5:59 am #

    I have to agree with Stuart that using snark when giving criticism may be fun and, certainly, kids will encounter it eventually – but it’s disrespectful. Do people roll their eyes at you when they don’t agree with you? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that you should do it too. It’s rude and it’s mean-spirited. We shouldn’t coddle our kids, but we shouldn’t be excessively rude and disrespectful to them either.

    That’s not to say that we can’t use humour when making a criticism. I think that humour in the talking of negative things can too often be misinterpreted as snark. But my rule is usually “if I wouldn’t respond this way to my boss’s comments, I shouldn’t respond this way to my family members’ comments.”

  29. ebohlman January 12, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Stuart: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The current trends we’re decrying here arose out of a backlash against a rigid view that people fail because they’re failures and succeed becuase they’re successes. In addition to being both factually and morally (it arose out of the eugenics movement) wrong, it sets up self-fulfilling prophecies. We need to acknowledge that failing at something is a normal part of everyday life, and that most often it isn’t anybody’s fault; it’s just something that happens. We need to understand that if you don’t succeed at something the first time you try it, it doesn’t mean you’ll never succeed at it; in fact, only a tiny percentage of people are successful the very first time they try something trivial.

    The idea that we can reduce failure by stigmatizing or punishing it is as ridiculous is that idea that we can simply pretend it doesn’t exist. We have to accept that it may never feel good, but it’s part of life; it’s not a sin or a crime or a fault.

    Looking at how kids learn to walk and talk should give us a healthy attitude toward trial and error.

  30. Uly January 12, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    “I took a child care class in high school (during the 90s), and they taught us that you shouldn’t say, for example, “No throwing rocks!” You should rephrase it so as not to hurt their fragile little egos. Say, “Rocks aren’t for throwing, okay? Wouldn’t you rather throw this ball?””

    Actually, this is a perfectly valid suggestion, just not for that reason. Very young children who are still learning to speak – say, up until seven or so, though obviously the better they get at language the less this applies! – have trouble parsing statements like “don’t do this”. Instead, they hear the “do this” part first, and it can really confuse them and frustrate the both of you. Telling them what they can do (instead of what they can’t) helps both of you stay sane until they hit the developmental level where they understand without having to think about it. And you can’t force that development to come any faster than it does, alas.

    Good idea – it was just worded badly to you.

  31. Uly January 12, 2009 at 9:18 am #

    (Incidentally, if your kid is consistently having trouble understanding you well before the age of seven, there’s a problem. It’s just that even then some level of misunderstanding is expected because, well, kids don’t have as much experience with talking as we do. They try harder, though!)

  32. Cynthia January 13, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    “It’s a little off-topic, but it speaks to the same issue. It’s the idea that we must nurture our children’s minds into growth without first providing them with knowledge from which their opinions should be formed. It’s the idea that a kid’s opinions are worthwhile regardless of how factually based (or not) they may be.”

    Grimalkin- YES, YES, YES! This is what I’ve been saying for years. In an extreme example, the of some children I tutored did not have them memorized the multiplication table, instead they learned all about ‘arrays’, and had to work out their own solution to these kinds of problems (4×6 kinds of problems) every single time, instead of just popping off the memorized answers. I’m sure the result was kids who were still counting on their fingers in high school.

  33. Christopher Byrne January 14, 2009 at 1:43 am #

    What a great commentary. Late last year, I spent a couple of weeks helping to edit and review college application essays. If I told you how many kids came up with the “I can do anything because I believe in myself,” thesis, you’d blanch. I know I did.

    If it crushes the spirit to tell children they’re wrong or misinformed then parents and teachers are doing a poor job of helping what people in the real world know–more things don’t work or are wrong than work or are right.

    Mastering information is one of the building blocks to learning. But information only becomes knowledge when it is applied. We must teach both the information and the use of it if we want our kids to become reasoning adults.

  34. Diane January 14, 2009 at 2:16 am #

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I am an English teacher. Just recently at a department meeting we received a directive from our principal that we are no longer to give zeros for grades. Yes, that’s right, no zeros, even if the student did not turn in the assignment at all. Our principal doesn’t want students to feel discouraged. That goes against everything I believe in. I believe in having high expectations and helping students to meet this goal. Rewarding them for nothing in an effort to build self-esteem is sending the wrong message and molding students’ beliefs to be that you get something for nothing and that you don’t need to work hard for what you want. It is also robbing them of the development of intrinsic motivation. When I was a child, working hard for a good grade motivated me, and my self-esteem was built around small successes. True self-esteem doesn’t come from coddling, but rather achievement.

  35. MikeTeeVee January 14, 2009 at 4:35 am #

    [we are no longer to give zeros for grades. Yes, that’s right, no zeros, even if the student did not turn in the assignment at all. Our principal doesn’t want students to feel discouraged.]

    What’s the lowest score you can give for doing nothing?

  36. Sarah M January 14, 2009 at 9:26 am #

    I love this blog! You write about things I think about ALL the time! (and I only have an 18 month old!)
    When is that book of yours coming out so I can buy two copies? 🙂
    One for me, and one for a giveaway on my blog because more people need to read about these things!

  37. Patricia January 16, 2009 at 2:19 am #

    Apropos of nothing, I was watching SuperWhy with my 4 year old last week, a show I dislike for no particular reason (low production values, the princess-factor) but allow once in a while. But this episode featured a lesson in not running too fast (using the Gingerbread Boy as the example). Yep, running fast on the playground is dangerous and needs to be discouraged. I thought playgrounds were where kids were SUPPOSED to run fast. It’s not like playgrounds are lined with broken glass, or even blacktop for that matter. And what is the tragedy in a scabbed knee? I immediately thought of this site and some of the most simple losses of childhood.

  38. Uly January 16, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    I actually like that show, Patricia, but I went WTF? at that too. It’s a playground. It’s for running around. Duh. Poor Pig.

  39. it is very cute
    see you later

  40. Yam Erez January 19, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    Lara, re “I’ll help U w/things you can’t do” – right on. Reminds me of being on the playground w/my daughters when they’d ask me to lift them onto a climber or a tree. My response: If you need help getting up there, you shouldn’t be there. Wait ’til you can get up there on your own.

    At one year of age, my daughter was climbing up to the top of the jungle gym; she had exquisite balance, and of course other parents were appalled. They would generally stand on the ground cajoling their kids to “Be careful [as if that ever had any effect]; you’re too high. Don’t go any higher!”. Was I afraid my daughter would fall? Yes. Was I willing to squelch her climbing instinct? No. I took my chances, and guess what? She never fell, but age age two, her sister was hanging from a bar and fell less than half a meter onto sand, and broke her leg! Was in traction for 11 days. Moral: Ya just gotta let ’em roll!

    Lara, “No rock-throwing” reminds me of two of my pet parenting peeves: “OK?” and “please”. Could parents please lose “OK?”, as in, “Five minutes to bedtime. OK?” Why are you asking your kid’s permission? Anyway, what you’re really asking is, “Did you hear me, and do you agree?” Since when does Kid have to agree? Make it a statement: “Five minutes to bedtime, Cathy”. Then leave her alone for five minutes. Then put her to bed. Don’t worry, she’ll understand loud and clear. Have you ever had to say, “Now we’re going out for ice cream, honey. OK?”

    Then there’s “Please stop hitting your sibling”. Does a police officer say, “Ma’am, please stop exceeding the speed limit”? “Please” precedes or follows a request; an admonition to play by the rules does not need “please”. It’s OK to give kids commands, i.e., “Stop hitting”. An order can be phrased, “I need you to take out the garbage sometime within the next five minutes”.

    re self-esteem and other school programs, see the second half of my blog post [starts with the words ON ANOTHER SUBJECT:

  41. Chris January 20, 2009 at 3:47 am #

    In a somewhat related subject, I’ve been peeved for years now about all the “graduation” ceremonies they put kids through now. If they’re in child care (pre school) they have a ceremony for getting to kindergarten; kindergarten?–hooray they’re going on the grade school; grade school–another ceremony to middle/junior high.

    I feel that, most of all, this demeans the actual milestone of graduating from high school and adds way to much weight to simply moving from one class to another. My two girls (now ages 32 and 30) had ONE graduation, which made it very, very special.

    Okay. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. This seemed like a good forum for that.

  42. Layne January 20, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    I heard a story a couple of years ago on NPR about those who were just out of college and entering the workforce (Generation x-y) expected so much praise, and when they didn’t get it or were criticized at work, would quit their jobs. Employers were having really high turnover rates. The story inverviewed several people who were consultants who worked with the EMPLOYERS, not the young EMPLOYEES, on how to use positive reinforcement in the workplace. Um, maybe I’ve had it wrong all these years, but shouldn’t that be the other way around?

  43. beanie January 22, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    I haven’t scrolled as thoroughly as I might otherwise, but I think this entitlement binge starts BEFORE pre-school now, and it’s institutionalized.

    The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) regulations are the standard by which excellence in child care is judged in this country. In many, many cases, the NAEYC regs are a blessing: the enforce low student:teacher ratios, they require curriculum development, they encourage creativity and exploration.

    However, they also require a level of entitlement in very young children that is shocking. And a day care center can lose its accreditation for not encouraging our little little youngsters to exercise their sense of selves at every turn.

    To whit:

    If little Suzy is obviously carrying a load in her diaper, we cannot simply scoop her up with an,”Upsy-daisy! Let’s get you cleaned up!” Instead, we must say to her, “Suzy, it looks like you need a new diaper. Would you like to have it changed?”

    Guess what happens if Suzy is playing with blocks and says, “No.” Nope. we cannot tell Suzy, “I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’m afraid we have to take a break and get you changed”, followed by placing her on the changing table. Instead, we have to say, “I know you’re playing with the blocks. You need a clean diaper, though. How about we change it?” If she still refuses, we have to take care of another child and return to Suzy, until she agrees to a diaper change.

    I have seen otherwise excellent centers risk losing their accreditation because they didn’t think it was a good idea to give a 2-year-old quite this much control.

    And we wonder why our kids think they’re in charge!!

  44. Lola January 22, 2009 at 5:09 am #

    My 2yo is just learning how to dress and undress himself (God, give me patience!). Really, even at this age he doesn´t need me cheerleading arond. When he first managed to get his shoes on, he came to me laughing and shouting. THAT´s self-esteem. What I do next is, well, not irrelevant, but it certainly has nothing to do with self-esteem but with self indulgence.
    “Great! Now try with the coat” is much better than throwing a party and making him think he has done it all. Just keep going, keep up the good work and save the ceremonies and parties for

  45. Sue January 22, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    Well, actually, do you think it is a good idea to for a two-year-old to get used to people doing things to hir without her consent? There are better ways to relate to a child than through dominance. Treating a child with respect is a good thing- if you want respect from children, treat them with respect. Self-esteem is self-respect. Teaching little children to buckle under to authority ripens them up for abuse sooner or later.

  46. lberns January 23, 2009 at 12:11 am #

    Hmm! Now I understand why many hopeful auditioners on American Idol, who truly believe they are the next Whitney Houston, react with self-righteous indignation when Simon tells them they are lousy singers (and they really are lousy singers).

    BTW – Last night, I had my 9 year old daughter walk a friend home in the dark (no street lights). I gave her a battery operated lantern, and told her to watch out for cars.

    She made it back in one piece (as she often does).

  47. lberns January 23, 2009 at 12:12 am #

    Oops. I mean as she always does.

  48. Audrey January 23, 2009 at 4:36 am #

    Our school district recently incorporated a “no fail” policy to “improve the children’s self esteem”. HUH? HOW can pushing a child ahead to the next grade level improve self-esteem IF that child can’t handle the work at that level because he/she couldn’t handle the work at the level before and wasn’t able to comprehend the work that is necessary to succeed at the next level? AND what does this teach the children who DO work hard for everything when the child beside them gets the same rewards by doing nothing? I am a former teacher, current homeschooler and I’ve seen children fail, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and continue along the path, stronger for having failed – be it on a project or a test or a complete grade. If these children are taught that they will succeed without trying or without learning, what does that do for our future of adults? Will they expect that promotion simply because they are there or will they work for that promotion? Raising a child’s self esteem is a good thing IF it’s done for the right reasons.

  49. den January 24, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    it’s not good of being too much self-esteem… in result with this, you are not going to accept others opinion but only in yourself.. self-esteem is natural, it’s innate ‘coz you know yourself. but also look at others’ idea in making decisions for instance…

  50. Rob C January 25, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    Sue: Would you let your children have ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they so desired? After all, you wouldn’t want them ‘buckling under authority’ by attempting to impose what you think they should eat over their own choices, would you?

    I can understand that you don’t want children growing up to be easily-led sheep, but they also need to learn that as long as they live, there are going to be people telling them what they can or can’t do, so they might as well get used to it. Otherwise they’re going to grow up to be losers getting fired from one dead-end job after another, because “Nobody tells me what to do!”

  51. tara January 26, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    Several years ago I read about American children’s inflated self-esteem in regards to standardized testing. They thought they were doing better than they actually were whereas International students had a humbler attitude. In other words, the American kids were going to sit back and think that they did well enough yet the International children were ready to strive harder.

    The whole self-esteem movement encourages inflated egos rather than humble attitudes. We’ve raised a “me” generation where everyone believes what they accomplish is stellar, even if the results are far from praise-worthy. It has got to stop. I cannot wait to read your book. We need someone to start talking about parenting in reasonable terms again!

  52. David January 28, 2009 at 5:31 am #

    When I was a Grad Student, and a teaching assistant, I taught a lab class (if I recall correctly, it was 3 hours a week for each group, with the first hour being a lecture and the following two hours being the lab). These were generally sophmore and junior engineering students. For one thing, many of them didn’t understand graphing. How did they get through high school? How did they get to be engineering students? And past their freshman year? Students would come in half an hour late to class. One time I just said: “look, I’m not here for my health – I’m here to try to help. If you don’t want to come to class, don’t come – it doesn’t matter to me. But if you do come, come on time because otherwise you are interrupting and causing problems for the other students who got here on time to try to learn”. The best part was that someone else walked in 10 minutes after my speech and the whole class burst out laughing, much to the late student’s dismay. Plus, there was rampant copying of work. I could go on.

    Anyway, in my last semester one student was awful in terms of work done. He did not turn in 75% of his labs, and failed miserably on my open-book final exam. Even though I graded the class generously, I had to give him a D… which is technically still passing, note. I got a job out in the real world, and a few weeks after the new semester started I got a call from my old advisor who said that the student was complaining about his grade! I told him the story and said “look, if you want to increase his grade, be my guest, but he doesn’t even deserve the D”. I don’t know what actually happened after that, but some students who are paying for school feel entitled to good grades without work. They feel they are paying for a diploma rather than actually there to learn something.

  53. Sue January 31, 2009 at 1:00 am #

    Heck, Rob C, I would eat ice cream for breakfast lunch and dinner if I so desired! heh I don’t because there are a lot of other wonderful foods that I prefer, and I learned that through trying them out when I wanted to. In my opinion and experience, the same goes for children. That is how they learn. They might think they want ice cream breakfast/lunch/dinner and might want to try that for a day or two, especially if it has been restricted previously. Substitute any restricted food or activity – a person will want to do a lot of it if it has been restricted, and then they can get their fill and learn about it and go on to moderation amongst all the other wonderful stuff available to them.

    We parents might already know these things because we’ve already learned about it, but each person has to do their own learning. How much better to learn about food issues/tv/video games/computer early on and not be haunted by poor ideas about them lifelong? Supporting our children in learning these things will only help them to increase their (and our) own confidence and self-esteem. We cannot do that learning for them.

    Sure, there’s always someone with ideas about what you can and can’t do. We don’t necessarily have to do what they think we should and shouldn’t do. We each have to make that decision for our own self. Learning how to evaluate the risks and benefits and taking responsibility for what we do or don’t do, despite what someone else thinks, is essential.

    We parents are, ideally, the trusted advisors who help our children- and ourselves, for that matter- learn these things. Lots of adults apparently haven’t learned that stuff yet and so don’t know how to help kids learn about it either, sadly.

  54. Yam Erez February 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    Sue, I agree. That’s why, while I limited my kids’ TV viewing, I let a few shows “slip through the censor” and would wander in while they were watching and “edit”, i.e., say, “That character’s lying”, or “How many women do we know who actually look like that?”

    In other words, I demonstrated critical viewing without actually having to sit with them and watch their mind-numbing garbage (as the parenting magazine’s advise — yeah, right. Like I have time to vet every movie release and watch TV with my kids).

    Result? Today my 18-year-old criticizes Oprah for the hypocrisy of preaching helping the underprivileged while wearing $400 shoes; my 16-year-old is anti-TV; and my 12-year-old watches only Survivor. Not bad, huh?

  55. Sue February 2, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    And it doesn’t stop there! 🙂 There are always more discussions and criticisms – is it really hypocracy or is Oprah doing the job the way it needs to be done and helps more people doing that in her $400 shoes than the $400 would do, dropped into the bottomless pit of need? What are the anti-TV arguments and how do they hold up to pro-TV ideas? What comes after Survivor? What about cooking shows and history and science and comedy and home improvement and gardening and and and…

    It never stops, the conversations with the kids, when they have control over their own learning. 🙂

  56. Sue February 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    “Self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think… The man of authentic self-confidence is the man who relies on the judgment of his own mind.” — Ayn Rand

  57. Barackoli April 17, 2009 at 6:28 am #

    i really love your blog. i just found it when i search about kid.

    i learn a lot here. Thank you

  58. Sky September 23, 2009 at 6:58 am #

    The problem is that there is little understanding of the difference between self-ESTEEM and self-RESPECT. The latter is a good well worth encouraging. The first is largely irrelevant to success and, if anything, probably has a negative correlation with success. They have developed tests to measure self-esteem, and I recall taking them as a kid in school. Studies have since shown that academically successful children tend to rank lower on self-esteem scales than academic failures do, and prisoners are shown to have the highest self-esteem of any set of people. I recall a university professor of mine saying this discovery was “surprising” and counterintuitive. I said it was not; it was quite obvious. If you don’t feel at all BAD when you fail (or do something wrong or stupid), why would you bother to strive to avoid failure (or something wrong or stupid)? If you feel great about yourself no matter what you do, why wouldn’t you take the easy route?

  59. linda bynum June 27, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    I want to know how much is to much self-esteem, and can it cause lots of problem.

  60. car review September 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    This is so true and there is one more element that poor kids of good looks have to suffer without any remedy.

  61. Christiana Schepens May 14, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    I’m still learning from you, but I’m improving myself. I absolutely love reading all that is written on your site.Keep the tips coming. I liked it!


  1. HIP, Inaugural Edition - Earnest Parenting - January 18, 2009

    […] at Free Range Kids shares wisdom on building a child’s self esteem […]