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The Self-Esteem Trap

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The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance by Polly Young-Eisendrath is out and it will be a good read for parents frustrated by the “every child is a winner” mentality that has taken over our schools and playgrounds.
I happen to believe in the philosophy behind constant praise for children. In my belief, they need to build a reservoir of love and good feeling to be ready to battle the big bad world. However, I am also wary of shielding them growth experiences that will prepare them for the challenges after they leave the nest. We have covered many good books on the site related to self-esteem, especially by Michael Gurian and Robert Brooks which are strong resources to better understanding this dilemma.

In this book, Ms. Young-Eisendrath spells out sources of the problem. If you recognize yourself as one of these types of parents, you may be setting your child up for self-esteem issues later on:
  • Laissez-faire parents - “indirect, non-confrontational, vague, and friendly in their attempts to be authorities”

  • Helicopter parents - “hover around their children” trying to be close friends with them.

  • Role-reversal parents - believe that you can encourage children’s inner genius by allowing them lots of affection and attention with few boundaries
As in the books of Gurian and Brooks, Ms. Young-Eisendrath examines the importance of adversity and virtue in developing kids with good self-esteem. Adversity is important, so they can overcome or make peace with it. Teaching virtue and conscience, especially as it relates to others, especially by helping them, helps to get kids outside themselves.

Some readers may be put off by her chapter on “Religion and Reverence,” where she has a section entitled, “Why we need religion,” and patronizingly insists that “spirituality” is not a substitute for organized religion.

Polly Young-Eisendrath is a Jungian analyst and psychologist,, and a a Clinical Associate Professor o Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Vermont.
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