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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions April 17, 2015


1/23/2013 9:59:00 PM
Column: Kids' self-esteem should be earned
R.F. 'BUZ' WILLIAMS
Courier Columnist



We are making a grave error in our culture, when we attempt to instill our children with too much self-esteem. Parents should impart a foundational amount to their children by letting them know how much they are loved and how beautiful they are. Self-esteem, however, like respect, serves the individual better when it is earned. When too much of either or both is given gratuitously, it over-inflates the ego and can make one insufferable.

The phenomenon of imposing too much self-esteem upon our children has become epidemic and is harmful, not only to the individual child, but to society in general. The causes, it seems to me, are twofold. First, we want to shield our children from the harmful effects of the real world. This often can be counter-productive and can reach absurd conclusions.

One of my daughters-in-law, Jackie, told us of a play date she and her son had with another mother and her son. While watching the boys play in the backyard, the other mother asked Jackie if her son had any toy guns. Jackie said that he did possess several toy space guns and laser rifles. The other mother told Jackie that her son's toy box also included an arsenal of such weaponry, but that she and her husband didn't call them "guns," they called them "air blasters" in front of their child.

A good friend of mine, Jim, related a story about visiting his son's family in one of the most politically correct areas in one of the most politically correct states: Napa, California. His five-year-old grandson handed him a deck of cards and asked him if he wanted to play cards. Jim asked his grandson if he knew how to play that simple, timeless, child card game of War. His grandson said, "Grandpa, war is a bad word. We can't say that." In addition, there were several other ordinary English words that were banned in his son's house including the words, "hate" and "stupid." I wonder if, when Jim's grandson gets a little older, this word ban will remain in force. If it is enforced, I would love to hear his parents explain, in words a nine- or ten-year-old can understand, how much they "severely disapprove" of genocide, murder and global warming. Will they explain that if someone seriously abuses drugs or sniffs glue or some other chemicals they will become "immensely handicapped intellectually?"

The second irresponsible ego enhancer is removing all competition from children's games and then rewarding the individual child for "participation." This is enormously asinine. There is virtually no progress without competition. If you shield a child from the "agony of defeat," you simultaneously hide from that child the "thrill of victory." In addition, if one thinks that the kids playing the games are unaware of the score, one is deceiving him or herself.

What is worse is giving praise or awards that are undeserved. When everyone on a team is given an award or trophy for an ever-expanding number of inconsequential categories, what is the impetus for anyone on that team to try harder the next season? Yet even the child who expended little effort can now feel good about his or her "participation." That kid has not been humiliated by not receiving a trophy or plaque. His or her self-esteem is increased.

One wonders when self-esteem became the most important goal in sports, education and life, but it was wrong to make it so. Especially a young life should involve learning from one's mistakes and failures. Self-esteem at that age is a roller coaster. Lows occur after errors and highs happen when hurdles are overcome. Often, self-esteem can be evil. A gang-banger who just shot the member of an opposing gang has extremely high self-esteem, frequently even after he's been arrested and even convicted. Aren't bullies similar?

Now, this problem is manifesting itself in the mainstream youthful population. The American Freshman Survey, with 47 years of data from nine million young people, has some frightening results. College students now are more likely to see themselves as gifted and driven. It doesn't appear to matter that their time studying and test scores are diminishing. The tendency toward narcissism in students had increased 30 percent in some 30 years according to a study by psychologist Jean Twenge.

Falsely attained self-esteem is not a good thing. Far more important is hard work, effort, tenacity, compassion and selflessness. These are what parents, teachers and society should be imparting to our kids. It is also the basis of real self-esteem.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

Actually, kids' self-esteem should be purchased in the open market. That way the ones whose parents contribute the most to society would have the most positive self-image, and the ones whose parents contributed the least would hate who they were and have a reason to better themselves. Can I get an "amen", Buz?

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2013
Article comment by: Bob Lynne

So Buz, you take offense from Steven Ayres remarks. I don't blame you since it hit the mark. If you take out the personal attacks and just look at his remarks about the content,however, he still hits the mark. Your ideas are beyond the pale and so out of the main stream that I think you best stick to your expertise...guns, police, and ummmm ...guess that's it.

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2013
Article comment by: Too Sheltered

Children today are too sheltered, spoiled and clueless of the future that they will face when adults. Parents put them in a "bubble" type lifestyle, shielding them from anything that will hurt their feelings. This does not prepare a child for the reality of life. They are free from family chores, work, responsibilities and unfortunately, what life is really about.

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Really .

@ Buz Williams:

Quick. Enlighten us with your child psychology credentials, please. I do my best to try and understand the sort of talking head I'm dealing with before I feel an urge to make the knee-jerk assessment that the author has no freakin' idea about what he/she is discussing. I'll honestly disclose to you now, I'm already pretty close to the latter. Blame society.

See, I gathered that your background is in law enforcement - a lifetime member of the 'gang of blue.' I suppose I require more as to why you feel you're some authority on discussing the self esteem of children. I need to know why you, who has experience dealing with the dregs of society, should be taken seriously, or even be listened to, regarding how parents should be raising their children.

For everyone else: just for the record: it's 'respect' that should be earned. Self esteem is a normal part of the human development process.

Personally, I have no motivation to comment upon your 'columns,' because I feel they are totally unrealistic, off the mark, grammatically questionable and the words of an unenlightened relic. In other words, I feel my own self-esteem is just fine, thanks. Your column offers me no literary benefits. My wife compelled me into answering your ridiculous 'column,' so here goes...

Yo 'Buz': I detest anecdotes, and yours are explicitly painful to read.The worst of it is they involve you, which add an extra element to the unbearable. You might do well in using said anecdotes to torture 'perps' should you take over the presidency of your local HOA, or become security for a strip mall in the near future. Just trying to help out.

Courier, please. You allowing this lightweight a column in your paper wreaks of desperation. You should jettison this fool before your subscribers start bailing in droves.


Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: I posted this opinion hours ago

This is the opinion that I posted. Clearly it does not violate the terms of use. I think that the person that is administering the online comments has and agenda for only allowing conservative trolls to comment.

I wonder if what Buz is saying in a round about way is that in our efforts to foster healthy self-esteem in today's children we are actually fostering self-centeredness, self-importance, and mediocracy.

I served on the Humboldt Unified School District Comprehensive Health Advisory Committee for five years. At that time it was believed that winning the war on drugs was within reach if only we could teach the children to have healthy self-esteem. Some of the practicle applications were just plain silly. The worst example was in the Quest drug prevention program which frowned on correcting children's spelling, because the child might interpret that to mean that you don't care very much what they have to say. At that time my oldest was in second grade and he came home with a Young Author's Award for a book he had written and the title wasn't even spelled correctly. One time his school bus got into a minor collision and he came home with a Certificate of Bravery. He had certificates of achievement all over his bedroom wall but he wasn't doing his work and could barely read or write. This was back in the early nineties and I can't see that we have made any significant progress in the war on drugs.

I'm not convinced that self-esteem can be taught at all. One of the programs that I reviewed Here's Looking at You 2000 included data comparing the self-esteem of the eguarian children of generations past to the postmodern current generation. They concluded that the eguarians had higher self-esteem and that the reason was that those children knew they had value, because they were contributing members of a family unit. Those children could see their own value. They were needed to work on the family farm and to help care for the animals, younger sibblings and aging grandparents. Those children were indispensable and they knew it.

In any event... I believe this is a worthwhile topic.


Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: I

Steve: You are a funny dude sometimes.

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Feel for the younger generations

History may be written that us baby boomers have left the younger generations with one heck of a mess. They'll be left with failing infrastructure, a violent society, more weather related disasters, and some real challenges achieving the American Dream. The least we can do for them is to ensure their happiness and self-esteem.

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Like 'American Exceptionalism'

The kids are just learning from their elders and claiming the same inflated self-regard, self-esteem, and pride that marks phony 'American Exceptionalism'.

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Class Less

Buzz, your total lack of class is evident in your cynical, condescending response to Steven Ayres' criticism. You would be much better served to simply not respond at all if this is the best rebuttal you can come up with.

You should read Tom Cantlon's respectful responses to his detractors to get a clue as to how it's done.

The Prescott Courier really needs to evaluate the value of this lowest common denominator of columnists. Is this the best we can come up with for a conservative viewpoint?


Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: I suggest that Buz work with some children in schools today

So many children have been completely destroyed by their parents who don't have time for them, who tell their children they 'suck' at everything and who tell the children that they are in the way, have destroyed the lives of the parents, etc.

And what in the world does calling a gun an 'air blaster' or saying war or hatred is a bad thing have to do with anyone's self-esteem.

You can argue these points in another column if you choose, but to through them in this column is non-sensical.




Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

Buz Williams, a retired developmental psychlogist from Long Beach. Oh. Wait.

Maybe I should write a piece about comparative strategies in police work. After all, I know nothing about the subject, but I bet I can say things that people like myself will find satisfying, especially if I throw in some gratuitous political references. Want to buy it, Courier?




Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Generation Y

1.The survey states that student's think they are gifted and driven. How is this a bad thing? Shouldn't people be the best they can be and use their gifts? Trends that have followed Generation-Y is world traveling from a young age, getting as much volunteer work on your belt, & being involved in loads of extracurricular activities. Yes, this generation has been told that their "special" but Generation-Y has also been told to outdo others, stand out, go on foreign exchange, go help out with charities, anything to get an edge on competition. This generation is different because they are creating a new world of competition, a new world of young people who are greatly determined, can survive in a fast-pace technological world, & are involved.
2. I agree with "Psychologically Speaking" self-esteem should not be earned, every human should have a love for themselves, it is essential for survival.



Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Ayres

Why thanks, Buz, I feel so completely validated.

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013
Article comment by: In Other Words

I think I understand where Buz was going with this however I look at it as we have become a nation of over-doing it with being "PC" or in other words, "the woosification of the US".

There needs to be a fine line between helping a child build his self-esteem, while not over-loading his ego. I've been around children whose parents, grandparents, siblings have told them (over and over again) how fantastic baseball, basketball, volleyball, etc., players they are and the child believes it 100%. Now they arrive at the Jr/Sr High School level and what they had been told about their skill level for so many years by the people who mean the most to them is no longer true probably due to the fact of not wanting to hurt their child's feelings or ego. This is a terrible mistake that we do to our children and something a coach has to deal with down the road.

As a parent of a child who played high school basketball, I know how hard it was to tell the truth to them about their abilities.

Having goals and dreams is something that we all should have we just need to be realistic with them. It will help them in the real world more than you know.

Losing in a game, debate, etc., as a child will help them in life when things don't go as planned. The ability to deal with both the good and bad in life leads to a well-adjusted adult.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: Aesop's Dog's Dog

BUZ WROTE, "The phenomenon of imposing too much self-esteem upon our children has become epidemic and is harmful, not only to the individual child, but to society in general. The causes, it seems to me, are twofold.

( first )

First, we want to shield our children from the harmful effects of the real world. This often can be counter-productive and can reach absurd conclusions.

(now the second cause of too much self esteem.)

The second irresponsible ego enhancer is removing all competition from children's games and then rewarding the individual child for "participation."

Known as an equivocation of terms. First is a 'cause', the second substitutes 'cause' for "irresponsible ego booster..".

I find the notion of "too much self esteem" to be the equivalent of too much education, too much fun, too much athletic skill ,too much self-reliance, or too much musical talent or writing skill. You get the idea.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: Buz Williams

To Steven Ayres: I feel I must apologize to you. My column apparently rubs you the wrong way. Today's column wasn't meant for people who have had their egos and self esteem trampled by others.

I believe your responses show strong evidence that this has occurred to you. People with low self esteem attack others so that they will appear superior, at least to themselves.

When you call the column "drek" and compare the author to "a bum shouting at traffic", it speaks volumes on how you must attack those who disagree with you, to justify your own views.

But take heart. By using your own name instead of a pseudonym, it shows that you at least have the courage of your convictions. This is a good first baby step toward earning a higher self esteem. With time you may be able to attack ideas instead of the person expressing them.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Ayres

"The Rev": "teach me why we should not appreciate Buz today?"

I'd have thought it would be obvious to someone of your intelligence. Leaving aside the incoherent tangent about word subsititution, Mr Williams demonstrates Emily Litella-like incomprehension about his topic right off the bat by saying, "Self-esteem ... serves the individual better when it is earned."

He totters on down this road with references to rewards, victories, trophies and the like, showing that he himself only values esteem expressed by others. This is the opposite of self-esteem.

A person with self-esteem does not need to win to enjoy a game, does not need someone else's approval to feel secure. Basing self-worth on the esteem of others is what sets children up for abuse and exploitation in relationships, as well as disappointment and cynicism when the expectations built on it fail to realize. Contrary to Buz's argument, narcissism is evidence of a failure of self-esteem, in that the individual is endlessly trying to compensate for that unmet need.

The entire column is a load of hooey drawn without reference to thought from a dark and smelly place. Since Mr Williams is set up as the representative local conservative, I would think that thinking conservatives would be most impatient with this nonsense.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: get real...

Buz, you're at it again with over simplifying everything down to either or issues. Other than your daily outings, do you spent any of your time talking and learning anything from our children? As a professional working with all ages of children from the greater Prescott area, I can tell you a great many of them would surprise you, and should I dare say, even make you proud. There are so many outstanding parents (left, right, and center) who are doing a remarkable job with raising the next generation for the good of this country.

Take the time....and hopefully your future columns will be more reflective of the genuine efforts most families are doing and the great results I'm witnessing.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: @An American

I think you misread the editorial. Buz claims to love the word "hate" and he thinks using the word "stupid" is smart. He also seems to have an abundance of self-esteem.

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: We're Doomed

What do toy guns have to do with self esteem?

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: dog on

Yes! More humiliation for the kids. These stupid little losers need a wake up call. I hate it when my kids "have" to share the victory when everybody knows who did all the work. Pathetic thumb suckers.



Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: The Rev

Steven teach me why we should not appreciate Buz today? I thought his recent work was only slightly ranty and mostly reasonable. When speaking on Buz such praise does not come easily from my mind.

So if you will help me understand your points.


Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: Catching a buz

How does one go about obtaining a position as a feature columnist for this rag? Obviously writing skill, subject knowledge, and credibility are not prerequisites.

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: D B

Insert pride instead of self-esteem and I completely agree.

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Article comment by: Craw Dad

Really good column Buzz, very true.
I have always noticed young people using the word respect a lot. This also needs earning.



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