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
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
Myth 6: Good parenting results in children with high
self-esteem, and bad parenting results in children with low
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. …