Self-esteem was the buzzword when I was growing up in the 1980’s and in college during the 1990’s. Lots of books and research articles came out about how a million things affected kids’ self-esteem. And let me be the first to say that I’m glad so much attention has been brought to kids’ wellbeing and mental health. But is self-esteem really the most important thing we can instill in our kids?
I beg to differ on that, though not because I think self-esteem is useless. Self-esteem is certainly an important part of a person’s overall wellbeing. It basically means that you have positive feelings about yourself. Can this be valuable to a child? Certainly. It’s good to like who you are and be confident about yourself.
But here is where I take issue with self-esteem. Its promotion has put a hyper-focus on attending to a person’s feelings for feeling’s sake. Have you ever tracked your various emotions across one day? I know I can feel joy, admiration, abject frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt in one day, and possibly within one hour depending on what I’m doing. Fortunately for me (and millions of others), these feelings tend to pass most of the time with little harm done.
While the intent of focusing on self-esteem was good, it’s made people so much more aware of all the things that can hurt their feelings. Some parents worry more about hurting their kids’ self-esteem than allowing them to suffer through frustration or competition.
It seems easier for people to be offended and self-focused in our culture now. More than just recognizing the feelings, people tend to dwell on them. This may not have been the direct intent of the people who started this movement, but it certainly is an outcome. It makes feelings seem over-important sometimes, despite their naturally shifty nature.
Tune in tomorrow to read about how self-worth differs from self-esteem in important ways. See you then.