Self-Esteem Programs Get Low Grades

Research shows having a high self-esteem doesn't always lead to positive or responsible behavior, The New York Times recently reported.

Since the early 1980s many experts have blamed low self-esteem for criminal behavior, racism, drug and alcohol abuse and academic failure. However, studies conducted by Drs. Brad Bushman of Iowa State University, Roy F. Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University and Jennifer Crocker of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research are debunking the notion that schools' self-esteem curricula are the vaccine for society's ills. Instead of inflating children's self-esteem, the data suggests, adults should teach them to resist temptation, to cope with criticism and to learn from their mistakes.

"My bottom line is that self-control is much more powerful," Dr. Baumeister says.

Bushman, Baumeister and Crocker also reject the belief that adults should protect children from feeling the effects of losing a game, shelter them from academic rigor and discourage self-discipline.

"I think we had a great deal of optimism that high self-esteem would cause all sorts of positive consequences, and that if we raised self-esteem, people would do better in life," Dr. Baumeister says. "Mostly, the data have not borne that out."

Although these findings do little to dampen the enthusiasm of some therapists, school administrators and parents, they concede other pieces factor into a healthy self-image.

"If you are not personally and socially responsible, then your self-worth is built on a false reality and, therefore, it's not healthy," says J.D. Hawkins, president of the National Association for Self-Esteem.

Dr. Jennifer Crocker agrees that this may be the problem with some schools' self-esteem curricula, which often encourage students to focus on their own happiness—and not on anyone else's needs.

"The pursuit of self-esteem has short-term benefits but long-term costs," she says. "Not everything is about 'me.'"

Of course, there is an upside to a healthy self-image. Dr. Baumeister notes that people with high self-esteem are happier and have more confidence in their abilities. The downside is that research indicates a 'D' student may have a self-image as high as the class valedictorian.

Self-esteem, then, isn't just about personal happiness. It is also about feeling physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. And fostering those characteristics, Dr. James Dobson says, is the parents' roles. In his book Hide and Seek, he says,

"By a proper use of parental influence and direction, we can provide our children with the inner strength necessary to survive the obstacles they will face. We can open the road to self-esteem and personal worth. Perhaps we won't reconstruct the world, but perhaps we can help our children cope with it more successfully."

Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

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