Suggestions to avoid the self-esteem trap

"The Self-Esteem Trap" is an interesting look at parenting today by psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath. Her theory is that in the last 30 years, children have "heard how special they are from the moment they enter the world." Parents and grandparents praise children and give them a false sense that they can do anything, are the best at everything and will have ultimate success as they grow up and into adulthood.

Young-Eisendrath claims this way of raising kids in today's culture has actually had the opposite effect. In her private practice, she has encountered children and adults who are unsympathetic toward anyone else having a problem, excessively self-conscious, fear failure to the point they won't take any risks, feel hopeless about their futures and are constantly dissatisfied, even when they have success.

In this book, she states the problems of making kids feel special, why she feels this problem is so rampant in society today and then things parents and adults can do today to start fixing "the self-esteem trap." She is not blaming anyone in this book, and she agrees it is easy to love children so much you only want the best for them and want them to feel good about themselves.

But now it has become a sort of epidemic, and it's time to do something about it.

She uses several real-world examples throughout the book, such as a friend's daughter who got caught shoplifting from the Gap after bragging about it in an email. The parents of the girl asked Young-Eisendrath what the consequences should be, and she stated that the girl should have to return the shirt to the Gap and ask how she could rectify her theft. The suggestion appalled the parents.

Here's what the author writes about this, "Inflated self-importance and a sense of entitlement make it especially difficult for a teen or young adult to figure out how shoplifting or lying or plagiarizing rips the social fabric on which we all depend, no matter whether you get caught."

She then goes on in this chapter to explain to readers a much more serious crime that two high school students committed in 2001, when they brutally murdered two Dartmouth University professors in their New Hampshire home. She explains how the self-esteem trap, obsessed with self-focus and dissatisfied with life, may have led to these two boys, raised by loving and dedicated parents, to commit such a senseless murder.

"This outcome is a stark contrast with the virtue and mastery that dedicated parents and teachers desire as the aim of healthy development," she states.

One of the main themes of the book is: "What's wrong with being ordinary?" An entire chapter is dedicated to the value of being ordinary. In this chapter, she gives very practical and useful advice for parents that they can start putting into practice today.

"If you follow the six simple practices ... you can cultivate emotional intelligence, autonomy and compassion for self and others — in both yourself and your children — in a way that highlights our common humanity and ordinariness."

She writes that these six practices: generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom, were traditionally a part of child rearing and family life, but they have dropped away in "this era of being special." She goes on to explain each practice and how these can help children feel a part of the community and develop a sound conscience.

What is so wonderful about this book is that Young-Eisendrath basically asks parents and adults to look realistically at their children and figure out what they want for their kids' future. She "preaches" love, happiness and virtue, and how we can help our children feel happy, which as many of us know is actually extraordinary.

Margo L. Dill is celebrating the release of her second novel, "Caught Between Two Curses," a young adult novel exploring love, family and the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Cubs. She also is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She lives in St. Louis with her family.

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