Self-Esteem Taught by Schools as Important Life Skill but Some Warn Too Much of a Boost Can Lead to Let-Downs

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer

Not everyone grows up in the kind of home 17-year-old Rita Castans lives in.

The Streamwood teenager lives with both parents. Mom and dad both find time to attend all of her activities and they regularly deliver words of encouragement.

"Everyone's family situation is different," said Castans, who believes home life and self-esteem are directly related.

As more and more children come from broken homes and divorced families or are subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse, it stands to reason they might lack self-esteem.

Some psychologists say lack of stability at home or self-esteem - or both - often is a contributing factor in teen suicide, delinquency and pregnancy.

"Gone are the days when we identify a troubled kid and kick him out," said Charles Williams, prevention coordinator for Geneva Unit District 304. "What we've got to do, what we've been doing is continue trying to identify kids who aren't feeling good about themselves ... to identify troubled kids and try to help them out."

And so it appears, as part of prevention efforts, schools now are trying to ensure students learn in an environment where they get good strokes and learn to love themselves and others.

At Tarkington Elementary School in Wheeling, for example, there is no honor-roll recognition. Rather, students are rewarded for exhibiting "Tiger Traits" in their academic and social behavior. They are rewarded for "trying hard," "doing their best" or simply "being helpful." This is part of the movement toward boosting self-esteem of students whether or not it is characterized as such.

Other elementary schools have bulletin boards praising students for the good things they do like cleaning off lunch tables or helping teachers. And some use the morning announcements as an opportunity to applaud students for taking good care of the classroom pet or being a good helper.

St. Charles resident Mary Damer worries there is a "proliferation of self-esteem programs" in schools. "(Educators) try to heap on praise and good feelings, but do not want to directly praise excellent work," she said. "Teaching self-esteem and interjecting phony self-esteem is a wasted effort."

Still, suburban educators say the benefits for outcasts, loners and other students outweigh the criticism.

For years, students have received self-esteem messages through drug prevention programs like DARE and Operation Snowball, which stress making positive decisions and steering clear of gangs, drugs and alcohol.

The new approach is more hands-on with a "Life Skills Curriculum" that instills in all students the importance of patience, perseverance, work ethic, treating each other kindly and respecting diversity. …