out children are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. Maybe a little too good.
As reported on the website Connect with Kids (http://www.connectwithkids.com/), a Â 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.
Itâ€™s nice to feel confident and instilling that “World, here I come!”Â attitude is actually a Free Range Kids goal. But (thereâ€™s always a but) instilling baseless self-congratulation is not. And I have to admit, itâ€™s a fine line figuring out when to say, â€œWhat a wonderful letter you wrote for grandma!â€ and when to go, â€œDo you think you could possibly put one OUNCE of effort into your thank you note?â€
Itâ€™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, â€œWhat do we see in this picture?â€
Up went a hand: â€œQueen Elizabeth!â€
The guide smiled encouragingly. â€œI donâ€™t think the Queen was here in Americaâ€¦â€
You donâ€™t think so? Jeez– I KNOW so. So should the kids! Thatâ€™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.â€ God forbid we should roll our eyes and say, â€œHey kid — back to the history books!â€
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, â€œFor 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.â€
Itâ€™s not that Iâ€™m all for instilling low self-esteem. I donâ€™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.
Thatâ€™s where Free Ranging comes in. A kid who goes and gets the familyâ€™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 â€œspecialness.â€ 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, â€œGood for you!â€ weâ€™ll mean it.
And theyâ€™ll know it. Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Lenore