Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bogus Self-Esteem

Did you hear the one about the child who received an award every year at school? It wasn’t necessarily won due to merit. The school’s policy dictated that every student must win one each year.

Or, how about the one whose parents placed their child smack-dab in the middle of their universe? Every party, every outing, and every activity at home centered on their child.

Are you aware of the twenty-something, so used to getting his way and receiving pats on the back just for walking into the room that he can’t quite wrap his head around the fact that he’s not landed a CEO gig, even though he is a college graduate (by two months, mind you).

My-oh-my. What a sense of entitlement.

I love children, and have devoted a number of years toward educating them, nurturing them, and enlightening them. I do not, however, condone pandering to them, nor do I think it’s a good idea for them to get the impression that the world revolves around them. It doesn’t, and the sooner they learn this lesson, the better off they will be.

When I was growing up, I had my share of ‘kid stuff’ in the form of birthday parties, sleepovers, and such. However, my parents lived their own lives, and I was dragged along on many adult-centered adventures. Most of our vacations took place in the quiet stillness of the mountains, rather than at amusement parks. My parents hosted parties while my sister and I played with Barbie dolls in our room. I knew my parents loved me, but I also learned quite early that they were more than ‘just parents’. They had their own friends and enjoyed their own kind of fun – the kind of fun that did not include children.

I did win a few awards in school, but believe me, I had to work hard for them.

I graduated from college and ended up working at a radio station full of men, some of whom had been in radio longer than I’d been alive. I didn’t expect to land prime air-time, and I certainly didn’t: I got my start working midnight-6am while only insomniacs and perverts listened. Did I complain? No. Did I beg for sweeter air-time? No. Did I get sweeter airtime when I proved myself capable of handling it? Yes.

Fast forward to my career as a classroom teacher.

I joined the staff of a very new middle school. At the end of the year, my principal informed me that every child in my homeroom was to receive an award. “Just make something up, if you have to,” she said. So I did. I think about the little stinker who received “Improvement in Communication” merely because he’d stopped swearing so much.

I fell to my knees in gratitude when the school came to the profound conclusion that every child winning an award might not be in the best interest of the child or of the school. “What if,” an administrator said, “we gave awards based on merit only?” Gasps flew throughout our little school community, and you can bet we were all taken to task by crying children and their angry parents afterwards. Most of them finally got used to the new policy; others, not so much….

I will never forget Mr. Motivation, whose son was in my 8th grade homeroom. I refer to him as Mr. Motivation because he fancied himself as a motivational speaker, author, and self-esteem guru. Junior Motivation was a nice kid, but not a stellar student. He missed a lot of school for various reasons (headache, lactose intolerance, paper cut, Grandma took him shopping – I’m not making these up). He didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities. He claimed to be on the tennis team, but rarely showed up for practice. Anyway, Junior wasn’t acknowledged during the awards ceremony, something his father could not fathom.

Mr. Motivation stormed into my classroom, demanding to know why Junior wasn’t recognized. I pulled out the guidelines set forth by the school that stated, in great detail, the requirements for receiving awards.

“But he’s such a good kid!” Mr. Motivation proclaimed.

“Yes, he certainly is,” I agreed.

“This has irrevocably damaged his self-esteem! I hope you can live with yourself!” and with that, Mr. Motivation stomped out of my room, his face red, fists clenched, seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.


We don’t get it with a constant barrage of atta-boys. In his seminars, education specialist Nathan Levy refers to the Bogus Self-Esteem movement that’s overtaken our parenting techniques and school systems. I’ve seen it first-hand throughout the years. Sure, we want our kids to be rewarded and recognized, but we’ve lost sight of the fact that they must actually put forth a little effort in order to truly succeed.

When I began my consulting practice, a young woman approached me in need of help. She’d just graduated from college and was working in retail. She couldn’t understand why some major corporation didn’t snatch her up and pay her six figures right off the bat. I had to take a tough-love approach and point out the following to her:

1. She was on the verge of being fired from the retail job due to tardiness and insubordination.

2. Her flip-flops and crop top didn’t necessarily scream President of the Company

3. She didn’t know how to shake my hand, nor could she make eye contact with me during our first few meetings

4. She had difficulty expressing herself verbally, her speech peppered with ‘uh, oh, um’

I discovered that she had received a great deal of recognition in school, as did her classmates. He parents split up after she left home because they shared nothing in common anymore (“They really did dote on me,” she revealed). I also learned that this young woman was incredibly bright, possessed an awful lot of potential, but had never acquired the tools in order to truly succeed in the world.

I worked with this young woman for a while, and am happy to report that she did eventually get it all together. She’s not a CEO, but seems pretty happy in her mid-level-management position. Had she learned the value of hard work, responsibility, accountability, and good manners while growing up, she could have tackled it all much sooner.

As adults, it’s our duty to provide our children with the proper tools to help them get though life. We must show them that working hard will pay off in some sort of fashion. We must insist they get involved in the community. We must let them know early on that they won’t always be recognized for their good efforts. We must reveal to them that, while they are important to us, they don’t rule the world.

I ran into Mr. Motivation not too long ago. He grumbled a terse ‘hello’ and kept on walking. I’m tempted to write him and tell him his lack of acknowledgment ruined my self-esteem. I’m being facetious; my self-esteem is just fine, thank you very much. I don’t need Mr. Motivation’s accolades.

Beth Newman
Image Consultant/Life Coach
Newman Image
Look, feel, and LIVE your absolute best!

My e-book, First Style Guide for Girls, is on sale now! Proceeds to benefit Citizens for Animal Protection.

No comments:

Post a Comment