THE OVEREMPHASIS ON SELF-ESTEEM Series: WEEK OF THE YOUNG CHILD

Article excerpt

Wherever they turn, parents are bombarded with information about the importance of self-esteem. It is as if self-esteem is some fortress to be built to protect our children and render them invulnerable from life's problems. Most of what parents learn about self-esteem are myths that are harmful for healthy development in individuals, relationships and society.

Myth 1: Self-esteem plays a significant role in virtually every sphere of a child's development and functioning. (Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics 1995).

Self-esteem is too general a concept to be useful in understanding the large range of normal differences in children's self concepts and social behaviors. Some children are very sociable and have many friends, others are more solitary and have one best friend. Some children enjoy risks; others are more cautious. All of these children are average to above in self-esteem. Myth 2: Low self-esteem is one of the major challenges we face in children. (California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility 1990). Most children score average to above average on self-esteem measures. The relatively small percentage of children whose self-esteem scores are low feel different from the perceived norm. For example, African-American children in a predominantly white class, children with learning disabilities and children with depression tend to score lower than average on self-esteem measures. When the factors that cause children to feel different are addressed successfully, children's self-esteem increases. When children with undiagnosed learning disabilities are told their school problems may stem from a disability, these children realize that their difficulties are not due to their stupidity or laziness and suddenly score higher on self-esteem. If one were to diagnose and treat the low self-esteem, the child's learning disability would remain. Myth 3: Self-esteem is related to school performance. Whereas some studies may report a connection between school grades and self-esteem, an extensive review of the research literature does not show that self-esteem can predict school performance (grades, athletic success, completing high school). Myth 4: Self-esteem is important to understanding the functioning of c hildren with social and emotional problems. Young children with low self-esteem are thought to have or be at risk for emotional, behavior and/or conduct problems and be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse. But low self-esteem does not help identify particular mental-health problems. Knowing that a child has low self-esteem simply tells us that something is not right. Recall, a child with low self-esteem may be mentally retarded, have a learning disability, be depressed, have an eating disorder or a host of other issues. For example, two first graders scored equally low in self-esteem. Both girls agreed with statements such as "I don't like myself." One of the girls, Mary, also says she likes to tease others and hits people when she is mad. The other girl, Susie, says she doesn't think it's fun to tease others and is quiet when she is mad. These children feel very differently about the world, are responded to differently by other people and require different interventions. Children with average to high self-esteem can also have substantial mental- health problems. For example, children with conduct problems and/or delinquent behaviors often have average to high self-esteem. Adolescent and adult sociopaths tend to score higher on self-esteem measures than anyone. After all, it is easy to love yourself if you don't know or care about how you've harmed others. Myth 6: Good parenting results in children with high self-esteem, and bad parenting results in children with low self-esteem. This myth may have some truth for some children with average to high self-esteem, however, it is untrue when applied to children with low self-esteem. …