I feel we (the boomer generation of parents) tried to give our children more self-esteem than we were raised with. I call it the "Dr Spock" syndrome.
We followed the authority figures of our day of how to create more confidence in our children than we had. I have come to believe that the information that we were given about this was not wrong as much as incomplete.
We have suffered the consequences of this belief. Only now is it becoming apparent to the "professionals" that catering to the "self-confidence" of children has led to epidemic numbers of narcissists and other character disturbances. Only now are we seeing large groups of self-centered individuals who have no idea how to cope with disappointment other than projecting blame outside themselves.
In validating everything that my children said or did, in praising even mediocrity of effort or achievement, in ignoring the un-praiseworthy I (and other parents and teachers like me) inflated their self-worth without teaching them balance.
It is not enough to have good self-esteem; one must also teach that effort is necessary. It is important to teach that not everyone is perfection at everything they try.
In trying to create self-esteem at all cost it is possible to fail to teach that rewards are commensurate with effort and product produced. In focusing on self-esteem we did not teach this generation how to deal with disappointment, or that it is okay to not win today, or that it is not our right to win every day, but it is our duty to strive every day as if we could achieve a victory. We neglected to teach them how to take defeat with grace and dignity, how to accept failure without shame or the need to put the other person down, or how to step up and try harder after a disappointment instead of blaming the other person for their failure.
While self-esteem has value it is not the route to healthy self-hood. In trying to raise children who did not feel the “good enough” syndrome of our generation; by focusing on self-esteem alone we created a whole new set of problems for society, the world and our individual families.
What we should have been teaching is self-compassion. We should have taught our children that sometimes we fail and that is okay we are still good people when we fail. We should have taught them that there is no shame in not being the best at everything but that self-compassion allows us to feel good about the things we succeed at while not berating ourselves for the things we are less successful at.
Instead of teaching our children that others are at fault for their bad results we should have been teaching them to be accountable for their own bad results, not because they are less than, but because that is life.
We should have taught them not only how to strive for something but how to handle things when events did not turn out as planned.
Instead of just giving them sympathy when they did not win or achieve the success they anticipated, and giving them a “participation praise” to support their self-esteem, we should have taught them how to handle disappointment through self-compassion and understanding that to strive is not the same as succeeding and the congruent lesson that failure is not an ending but a new beginning to try something differently.
Instead of encouraging them to coast on their talents by giving endless praise, we should have been teaching the value of training and due diligence and teaching them that others also have talents but that talent alone is not enough.
Yes Dr. Spock and his generation of child experts did not have enough knowledge to point us in the right direction. Their advice was well meant but incomplete. Self-esteem is important but the lesson should not have stopped there. A whole generation has been raised where teachers had to give everyone a prize for just showing up and coaches had to give a trophy win or lose, to everyone just for participating.
In this generation, parents felt obligated to praise for the sake of praising. Where trying to teach lessons about humility were frowned upon. Where when a child did poorly it was not the child’s fault but the teachers fault for not seeing the wonderfulness of this child. Where all achievement was praised equally so that mediocrity became acceptable because to praise the extraordinary was frowned upon for fear the ordinary would think less of themselves.
We glorified self-esteem at the expense of other equally important virtues. We forgot to teach that not everyone can win all the time, that for one person to win another person must lose and that there is no shame in that. We forgot to teach that valuing another person is not based on their being the best at anything in particular but that we value people simply because they are.
Instead of feeding the ego we should have been nurturing compassion.
Instead of accepting that that good enough deserves praise, we should have been teaching that there is value in learning that there is a difference between good and excellent.
Instead of teaching "you are super special just for being", we should have been teaching "you have great value but you need to figure out how to bring that value to others."
Instead of teaching "you are the best", we should have been teaching "you have gifts and it is up to you to discover how to use those gifts to bring value to others."
Instead of praising the un-praiseworthy we should have been teaching the difference between good enough and excellence.
We should have been teaching that it is each person’s responsibility to find a way to create value in themselves instead of expecting others to validate them.
And most importantly we should have been told that children need to be accountable for their shortcomings not to blame others for their shortcomings in order to grow up into adults that don’t blame everyone except themselves for their unhappiness.
In raising “self-confidence” we raised a generation that expects “out there” to provide them with gratification and happiness. We taught them that praise and validation is their due. We taught them that anyone who does not “feed” their need for praise is toxic and needs to be discarded and to surround themselves only with those who “feed” their aggrandized self-image.
And only now are the experts seeing the results of this “experiment” in child raising and they are seeing that the outcome is not at all what was anticipated. The damage has been done. The new “experts” are starting to show a different path. But for many of us it is already too late.
We are reaping the results of the “experimental generation”. The generation of people that was supposed to be more confident than we were. Well they are. But being more confident does not make them better people. It only makes them more arrogant and self-centered and entitled.
- They are more willing to lie and cheat and obfuscate to get what they want.
- They are more willing to leave behind anyone or anything that does not meet their needs and at the same time they are less caring of the needs of others.
- They demand respect without extending respect.
- They demand to be loved on their terms and they love as a form of blackmail, using it as something to hand out as a reward for getting what they want.
- They control others while they don’t control themselves.
- They expect others to do for them without considering what they do for others.
They do onto others that which they would never allow others to do onto them.
We are reaping the experiment gone wrong.
Renate Dundys Marrello
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