Yes, that’s what you might overhear among mental health professionals. The self-esteem revolution is officially over. The writing was on the wall when Baumeister identified that violent prisoners did not suffer from low self-esteem, rather they suffered from egoism. They thought too highly of themselves. As a result they had to seek revenge when someone showed them a hint of disrespect. (1)
Now it is stylish to bash our decades-long infatuation with self-esteem. Helicopter parenting, extreme parenting, parents who rebuke teachers for giving a B to their 3rd grader, parents who need their children to be happy and successful and will do anything to make them that way, teachers who embrace “different learning styles” to shield a 7th grader from the simple fact that he isn’t that great at math, parents who try to protect their children from all hurt and failure, and little league coaches who give life-sized trophies to every five-year-old—they are now being told to let the kids cry and let them learn how to deal with hard things. If there aren’t hard things in their lives, then feel free to impose some hardship. And, for crying out loud, stop trying to make your kids feel so special and learn how to say “no”! It’s time for them to earn their stripes. (2)
Perhaps the next decade will be filled with “Tots week with Bear Grylls,” cold showers in every locker room, and drill sergeants in elementary school classrooms.
Indeed, as Ecclesiastes says, nothing is new under the sun. It isn’t only the nutritionists who change their tune every five years. Pop psychology does the same.
The reality is that not every kid can be President. Kids are like the rest of us. We are good at some things, bad at others, and average at most. Wise people consider their strengths and weaknesses, and have sought the help of their critics so they don’t indulge in wishful thinking.
“An accurate self-image.” That’s what I remember John Bettler (3) teaching almost thirty years ago. Not an inflated self-image, not a low-self image, but an accurate one. It sounded like heresy then. Now it is mainstream! And though John’s teaching was wise, he wasn’t ahead of his time, he was just thinking biblically about this topic. There is a timeless quality to that.
In other words, expect your biblical thinking about morality and human nature to have two distinctives: (1) parts of it will be ridiculed because it will be out of synch with popular thinking, and (2) parts of it will be received as ordinary wisdom that has broad, popular appeal (there are facets of God’s wisdom that are available to the naked eye). And—if you wait long enough—what was once ridiculed will often become ordinary.
What does this mean for parents? If you never really signed on with the self-esteem movement, then it means nothing. If, however, your parenting philosophy is that your children must always be happy, they have unlimited potential, they could be great at everything if it weren’t for that pesky algebra teacher and tennis coach, both of whom are blind to real talent, and your children live in a world where life is about them, then now is a good time to recalibrate your understanding of discipleship.
But you certainly can pay attention to your kids’ feelings.
(1) Baumeister, Bushman and Campbell, “Self-esteem, narcissism and aggression: Does violence result from low self-esteem or threatened egoism?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol.7, no.1, Feb 2000, pp.26-29.
(2) E.g., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel; “How the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids,” by Lori Gottlieb, The Altlantic Monthly, July/August 2011); and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua
(3) John Bettler was a co-founder of CCEF and Executive Director for more than 20 years.