American kids think they are pretty hot stuff.
Despite declining test scores and time spent studying, college students in the United States are more likely than ever to describe themselves as gifted and driven to succeed, according to the American Freshman Survey.
It’s no wonder. Children are growing up in a world where there are no winners or losers and praise is handed out almost as easily as A’s in school. Advanced academic programs are watered down so more students can be labeled “gifted,” and you’d think every kid in the neighborhood is the next Michael Phelps with how many trophies and ribbons are given to last-place finishers.
I’m all for building the self-confidence of kids, but I think we have gone off track somewhere. Instead of letting kids grow actual confidence through achievement, we are condemning them with false praise that only inflates their egos.
Essentially, we are so afraid to let kids fail that we wind up robbing them of any real achievement. True self-esteem comes from true achievement, whether that’s winning a race or learning to tie a shoe. Success can even just be giving effort to a difficult task. Whatever the goal, the achievement of it is what builds actual self-esteem.
Self-esteem doesn’t come from the constant praise of parents who tell their children that everything they do is perfect and they are the best at piano, softball, art and choir. Such a mentality only sets kids up to a ridiculous expectation of perfection. It also creates children who will never try anything unless he or she is going to be the best at it.
The problem is, kids are keen observers. They know when their parents are full of hot air. And though they may come to believe a lifetime’s worth of false praise, they know at their core it isn’t true. We’ve set them up to feel like failures when reality sets in.
What we are creating is a generation of egomaniacs with devastatingly low self-esteem.
I’m not advocating for withholding praise from children or tearing down their self-esteem in any way. There should be unconditional love and meaningful praise.
In our home, I am working on not giving the blanket, superlative praise such as “You’re so smart!” or “You are such a great soccer player!” or “You’re the best!”
Instead, I try to find something specific about my daughter’s performance. I say things like, “I really liked the way you figured out that problem” or “You really seemed to enjoy playing defense today.” I also ask a lot of questions such as “Why did you use purple for the sky?” or “What was the hardest part of the game today?”
I’m not perfect at it, but I’m trying. Mostly, I want my daughter to know she doesn’t have to be the best to have worth. I also want her to believe in herself not because I say she can do something but because she has seen firsthand that she is capable.
Whether my daughter succeeds or fails, I’ll always be there to rally her on. But in the process, I hope she finds something far more meaningful than my words. I hope she builds a rock-solid self-image based on personal achievements rather than fleeting — and too often false — praise.
Do you think we are raising a generation of egomaniacs? What can parents do to build true self-esteem in their children?