What Parents Can Learn From Reading “The Self-Esteem Trap”

Written on November 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Written by Lisa Kelsey 

As a tail-end baby boomer who grew up during the ’70s in California, I technically don’t fit into the “GenMe” classification, as psychologist and author Polly Young-Eisendrath calls it. But as I read her book The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance, it became painfully obvious that I had not entirely escaped the self-esteem trap (California is always ahead of the curve, perhaps).

I grew up being told that I was talented and “special” and would be able to do anything I wanted—by my mother and by teachers. Fortunately, this was somewhat mitigated by my Catholic-school upbringing, as well as by my European-born parents’ “old-fashioned” parenting style in regards to respecting elders, making myself useful, etc. As I matured, I was able to see myself with more perspective. Still, even as an adult I have suffered from a vague sense of dissatisfaction—that I never lived up to my potential—which the author describes as one of the symptoms of the self-esteem trap. Anyhow, I am not a lost cause—I can still improve!

More important, this book provides insight into how to raise my kids to have real—and realistic—experienced-based self-confidence (i.e., confidence and pride based on achievements, not from being told they are special or talented, even though they may be). And to have compassion for others based on the realization that we all share a common humanity, we are all “ordinary.” This doesn’t diminish my kids’ talents—it just places them in perspective and relieves them from the pressure to be exceptional in every way. True happiness will come only if they realize they are human and acknowledge their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Charity and compassion should not merely be given lip service, however. It’s fine to raise children with progressive values and tell them to “treat others as you would like to be treated,” but kids need to practice those things—not just talk about them. They need to experience it directly, in their own lives. They need to put the needs of others—people who are right around them, in their own homes and communities—before their own. They won’t get that experience from clicking on a KONY 2012 link and watching a YouTube video.

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