Self-Esteem vs Self-Control

It’s all the rage to douse your kids in abundant praise.

This fashionable method of building self-esteem is partly shared by Gary Vaynerchuk. His mother heaped praise on him all day long as a child, and he believes that’s why he loves himself so easily. However, he also experienced a figure of challenge – his equally loving but workaholic father.

It’s good to praise your kids, obviously. As with all fashions, however, it’s been taken as far as it will go. We’re praising kids for achieving nothing, and for doing things that have no value. I once saw a child’s drawing stuck to the wall on display in the family home that consisted of a half-arsed and rushed smiley face and the word “poo” written in large, proud letters.

“As I watched American parents slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks – drawing a squiggle or waving a stick – I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts:
(1) higher dreams for their children
(2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take.”
– Willpower, by John Tierney & Roy Baumeister

 

Gary Vaynerchuk seems to understand that you can “instil so much self-esteem into them that they’re borderline delirious” without letting them off the hook for under-performing.

(5:37 to 6:08)

I’m 27 and single. I have no right to tell anyone how to raise their kids. Instead, I would like to encourage anyone who’s thinking about making some new humans to simply do their research, instead of following the latest fashion. If you can be bothered to raise a child, you can be bothered to read a few difficult books. And they must be difficult. Otherwise, it’s very likely you’re reading another “fashionable” parenting book.

I’d recommend starting with a book that’s mostly not about parenting at all – Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. One chapter is entitled Raising Strong Children: Self-Esteem vs Self-Control, and it looks at data, along with a few stories, and it didn’t go along with the fashions of its time…

The theory of self-esteem was a well-intentioned attempt to use psychology for the public good, and it did indeed seem promising at first. Baumeister [co-author] spent much of his early career on the self-esteem bandwagon.

Yes, students with higher self-esteem did have higher grades. But which came first? Did students’ self-esteem lead to good grades, or did good grades lead to self-esteem? It turned out that grades in tenth grade predicted self-esteem in twelfth grade, but self-esteem in tenth grade failed to predict grades in twelfth grade. Thus, it seemed, the grades came first, and the self-esteem came afterward.

“When I was in school,” Carroll recalls, “it was such a big thing to get a gold or silver star. It was so important to have a sense that I worked really hard to achieve something. When I ironed my grandfather’s shirts, he insisted on paying me because I did it so well – he told me I did better than my grandmother, and I loved that feeling of accomplishment. That’s where your self-esteem comes from, not from being told you’re the greatest.”

 

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