Why does the self-esteem of today’s kids seem to be falling?
We’re so obsessed by measurable outcomes in terms of quantifiable achievement in our kid’s lives these days, that I think we’re generating a huge problem in terms of their feelings of self-worth. For example, we praise high grades and high performance and frown upon failure. We make achievement or lack of it synonymous with who our children are. We need to make sure our kids know that we value them, regardless of their grades, their mistakes, their achievements, or lack thereof. How they are perceived influences profoundly how they feel about themselves.
According to my anecdotal research at school (I teach kids aged 13-18), kids feel that parents and teachers seem to be saying either implicitly or explicitly that they’re not good enough. This impacts their self-esteem.
My book, Raising Stress-Proof Kids (forthcoming, Familius, 2015) highlights that as we push our kids towards academic success on this imaginary stress-freeway towards an imaginary finish-line, the results are all too often high anxiety, depression, and even suicide in many countries.
The world is full of brilliant, creative individuals who can do more than just achieve high marks. Some people may even take a while to find their ‘thing’ and that’s okay. If Steve Jobs hadn’t taken a calligraphy class in Oregon while he was trying to find out what he really wanted to do in the world, we wouldn’t have fonts on our computers! We need to be interested in the world and show our kids that there is space for whoever they are going to be in this world.
So, in short:
Value effort and don’t give empty praise (i.e, ‘you’re so smart).
Help your kids see ‘failure’ or mistakes as an opportunity for growth. For example, even with regard to drawing pictures, if your eight year old messes up, instead of him just throwing his picture out and starting again, encourage him to look at the drawing and see how the mistake might be incorporated or transformed.
Appreciate kindness and helpfulness. Say ‘thank you for putting that stuff away,’ rather than ‘it’s time you tidied up that disaster of a bedroom.’ Look for the efforts worthy of value and appreciation.
Listen to your kids. They feel valued when you’re truly engaged with what they have to say.
Apologize. We’re not perfect. It’s okay to say ‘I’m so sorry I was grumpy with you this morning. I was just tired and edgy.’ This shows our kids that we value them as human beings worthy of our apologies.
Get them (and you) off the ‘stress freeway’ towards success. They’ll do so much better if they have the tools to be resilient.
Life is going to be full of things that can impact self-esteem and feelings of self-worth as our kids grow. We can’t stop that or fix everything. But if they have the tools and the underlying sense that they are valuable human beings, they will surely thrive.