Yesterday, I read an article in the Albuquerque Journal about what seemed to be a terrific program for the prevention of bullying. The program is called “The Way of the Snail” and focuses on building self-esteem, confidence, “love of self,” and self-control. The program uses a variety of techniques for accomplishing these goals such as looking in the mirror and proclaiming that one sees a beautiful person and learning to hold one’s arms out as long as possible (presumably to teach self-control).

Frankly, I see articles like this one rather often. Schools across the country frequently buy into spiffy sounding curriculums with lofty, noble sounding goals much like investors having a feeding frenzy over the latest hot stock IPO. And what in the world could be wrong with jumping in on new programs designed to help kids to overcome problems and plow through obstacles?

Plenty. Today’s world contains a veritable army of social scientists who have advanced knowledge about how to evaluate the effectiveness of psychotherapy, parenting strategies, and educational programs. Shouldn’t we at least ask that new curriculums, no matter how appealing, be subjected to empirical test prior to full scale implementation? All such programs cost money and siphon off valuable time and energy from other educational efforts. We can’t afford to allocate resources based on subjective impressions.

So, how about “The Way of the Snail” program? Elements of the program could have some value, though I really have no way of knowing. However, some elements could easily make matters worse for kids. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated that kids with excessive, inflated, narcissistic self-esteem are at higher risk of becoming bullies than kids with “average” self-esteem. Teaching kids to mindlessly chant positive self-directed messages in front of a mirror runs the risk of boosting self-esteem on a foundation of sand.

Furthermore, other studies have shown that placing mirrors near people tends to actually increase negative emotions and decrease the ability to solve problems. Mirrors appear to cause these problems because they increase people’s focus on themselves, something psychologists call self-absorption. And self-absorption has been shown to cause all sorts of emotional difficulties.

Effective programs for kids’ emotional and behavioral well-being exist. Typically, they are based on solid evidence. If they raise kids’ self-esteem, they do so by teaching kids real skills such as how to persevere and tolerate frustration. As kids accomplish important skills with real-life value, their confidence and yes, their self-esteem, usually improve.

The upshot: Please ask your school boards and school administrators to look very carefully at any new curriculums and programs. Insist that they base their decisions on evidence rather than what looks good on the surface.