Parenting in the self-esteem era has presented major challenges. Not that children have changed. Foolishness continues to reign in a child’s heart from birth (Prov. 22:15) and if parents do not properly train and discipline their children, shame will brand itself on their reputation (29:15).
The culture’s perspectives on parenting continue to fluctuate like s school girl’s crushes. Apprehensive parents in each generation scurry to find advice from the latest self-proclaimed parenting expert, from Dr. Spock to Dr. Phil. Perspective on self-esteem has suffered from this hysteria.
Following one of my children’s soccer seasons, the coach gathered all the players and their parents together. Then he called each player to come forward to receive a trophy. A trophy? They did not win their division. They had not won a tournament. But every child received a trophy for nothing more than playing on the team. This practice continued for all of my children who played on teams during their grade-school years.
I thought playing on the team was a reward in itself. Parents are willing to ante up the registration fee, drive the child to the forty-six practices, give up Saturday mornings for games at the soccer fields and make contributions to snacks twice in the season and a coach’s gift at the end of the season. And the child got to play!
A trophy means something different. It represents special achievement, recognition for unusual accomplishment, distinguished skill and effort. My five-year-old had done none of those things. She had played and had fun, for crying out loud!
This was all part of the self-esteem movement. Every child must be made to feel special. They should receive only praise and never criticism or even a smidgen of negativity. All forms of competition had to be restructured so that everyone was a winner. They were all the same – star athletes who won trophies.
Such nonsense only inflates the ego to levels of delusion. American Idol demonstrates this tragic folly. Tens of thousands of people audition every year, many of whom never even sang in their school choir. Some of the contestants would qualify as tone deaf. Why do they think they might be selected for the show? What generates these fantasies?
When the judges give an honest critique of their lack of talent, some contestants leave the theater in a fog of expletives. Their self-assessment supersedes the judges’ opinons. They are not heart-broken to learn that they have not been gifted with star voices. They are angry that these cocky experts did not recognize their talent.
Some researchers are now identifying the septic effects of this movement. Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University, and her colleagues have scrutinized decades of research. She notes a giant shift in expectations among students. They expect success because they have received so much affirmation in their efforts, regardless of how small those efforts might have been.
Laura Rovi had learned how to achieve high grades for her minimal effort. Her sophomore year in high school she encountered a teacher who had missed the self-esteem training. Rovi allowed a classmate to complete most of the work on a final group project for the class. The teacher properly rewarded Rovi for her effort in the class, a grade of C. Rovi was insulted.
Alex Ortiz had played softball since she was 4 years old. She was passionate about it. Everyone told her how good she was. When she tried out for the high school team as a freshman, she did not make the cuts. Instead of seeking feedback on areas for improvement and dedicating herself to train for the next season, she just quit. Her passion was doused by the ice cold water of reality and she did not know how to respond. “It kind of crushed me. It felt like (earlier coaches) had been lying to me.” (“A Downside to high teen self-esteem?“)
Self-esteem propaganda saturated books on parenting, education strategies and children’s literature. Nausea overcame me after reading He Bear, She Bear to my children. This Berenstain Bears classic beginning reader flaunted the theme, “You can be anything you want to be.” Page after page, Sister Bear and Brother Bear explored dozens of different careers, with Mama and Papa Bear telling them they could be any of those things, lying to their offspring.
I quickly erased any erroneous beliefs forming in my children’s minds. “You can be whatever God wants you to be and that depends upon the gifts and abilities that he has given to you. It depends upon socio-economic factors into which He chose you to be born. It depends upon the opportunities He opens for you. And it depends upon your own hard work to achieve.” (Well, I put it in a child’s vernacular over the course of many years.)
Self-esteem without a correct understanding of the nature of man will corrupt a child’s emotional and psychological balance. Paul warns, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” (Romans 12:3).
Citizens of God’s kingdom must remember that the theories of the world will usually collide with the principles of the kingdom. We must bring God’s sober judgment to the discussion.