I am glad the so-called self-esteem movement seems to have finally seen its day. A friend of mine, Phil Cooke, recently blogged about this:
It appears the self-esteem movement is finally dead. It all began back in 1969, when psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a highly acclaimed paper called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem.” He argued that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life,” and his idea soon became the hot new thing in education. At the apex of the craze, the California Legislature even established a “Self-Esteem Task Force” for the state’s schools.
We were told the reason kids got into drinking and drugs and sex and crime and had low grades was because they had low self-esteem. So millions and millions of tax dollars were used to build up the self-esteem of our children. But did it work? Is crime lower? Are families more intact? Is drug use down? Commenting on the movement, Wall Street Journal book reviewer Kay Hymowitz concluded, “High self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything.”
The self-esteem movement didn’t work. And if you want to see how it plays out, then watch “American Idol” sometime. My favorite part is not seeing who wins it, but watching the auditions. I find it amazing to watch people who have no musical ability audition under the assumption they are really good. They strut into the room and sing away, only to have the judges break the harsh truth to them: They don’t have what it takes. Sometimes the contestants scream and yell. Occasionally, they throw things. Then they storm off, only moments later to be greeted by family members who throw their arms around them and say something along the lines of, “They are so mean! You are so talented. You are so good. You are the best. They just don’t understand.” Meanwhile, I am thinking, News flash! They are not good.
There are times when a parent needs to say to his or her child, “You know what? I don’t think this is your greatest strength here. Maybe that is not where your abilities are. Let’s work on this other area instead.” We can overpraise our children.
Every child is different. If we don’t realize that, then we are making a big mistake. Some children excel in some areas. Others excel in others. But often we make the mistake of thinking that all of our children should be the same, or we compare kids to one another: “Why you can’t you be more like your brother? Look at what a good football player he is.” Or, “Why can’t you be more like your sister? She gets such good grades and you don’t.” Parents need to take time to really look at the character of their children and see the abilities and talents that have naturally been built into them by God.
But some parents attempt to live their lives through their children. Because they weren’t able to do a certain thing, they are determined their son or daughter will do it. But maybe their son or daughter shouldn’t do it. Maybe that is not who he is or how she is gifted.
More than bolstering their self-esteem or pushing them to be something they are not, our children need our time and genuine attention. And when you invest time and energy in your family, it can have immeasurable benefit in the life of your child in the years to come.
Some statistics were compiled not long ago that found adolescents in a close family unit are those most likely to say no to drug use, no to premarital sexual activity and no to other anti-social behaviors. They are the ones most likely to adopt high moral standards and develop the ability to make and keep friends. They are the ones who will embrace religious faith and involve themselves in helping activities. And what develops this? A close family unit.
Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence,” wrote, “We are frequently asked if it is possible to have it all. … Our answer is no. The price of excellence is time, energy, attention and focus. At the same time that energy, attention and focus could have gone toward enjoying your daughter’s hockey game. Excellence is a high-cost item.” Peters wasn’t making a value judgment; he was making an honest assessment of what excellence requires. If your goal in life is success at any cost, then your family will pay for it.
We all have to work for a living. And it is a good thing to take care of your family – it is even commanded in Scripture. But some parents can become so consumed with their careers, they lose their family in the process. They alienate their children. They rationalize that if they make more money, they can give their children nicer things. That may be true. It is even commendable in one sense. But we need to realize that the best thing we can spend on our children is time – and lots of it. This concept that we call quality time is a myth. Children don’t need quality time, they need quantity time. They need their moms and dads around them – a lot.
When you stop and think back on your childhood and the meaningful moments you had with your parents, you probably won’t have your heart warmed when you think about that wonderful toy you got that one Christmas or the great vacation you took as much as you will think of those simple times when you just did ordinary things. Somehow they stick in your memory because your mom or your dad took time to be with you. That is what your kids need from you right now. They need your time.
As it has been said, the cure for crime is not in the electric chair, but in the high chair. May God help us to lay a godly foundation for our children early in their lives so we can equip them to live in the real world.