Posted: Mar 07, 2014 10:00 AM
 
My generation is the product of our parents' attempt to teach us self-esteem. Sadly, this basically produced a bunch of narcissists. (Selfies, anyone?) So what's the difference between self-esteem and self-love? How do we get this right?

Today, I intentionally let my 4-month-old daughter roll off of her bed. Before you call CPS, you should know it is a floor bed, so she "fell" maybe four inches. It was one of the hardest things I've done yet as a parent of two: Standing back and watching as a playful moment of rolling around turned into a startle and a scream. But it was specifically to facilitate moments like this that I acquired a floor bed for my youngest, so I stood back, and readied myself to comfort instead of rescue.

The self-esteem movement

It was this natural instinct drive to protect that sparked the "self-esteem movement" in the '70s. My generation is the product of that movement. The result? Many of my peers are lazy, selfish, entitled and apathetic. Instead of being raised as children with self-esteem, we were inadvertently trained to crave praise. To obsess over performance. To find our self-worth in the esteem gleaned from others. That's not true self-esteem at all… that's narcissism. Oops.

The problem is that when people try to boost self-esteem, they accidentally boost narcissism instead.

An article in Time magazine entitled "Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation," tackled this topic. "… in the 1970s, people wanted to improve kids' chances of success by instilling self-esteem. It turns out that self-esteem is great for getting a job or hooking up at a bar but not so great for keeping a job or a relationship. 'It was an honest mistake,' says Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University and the editor of Self-Esteem: The Puzzle of Low Self-Regard. 'The early findings showed that, indeed, kids with high self-esteem did better in school and were less likely to be in various kinds of trouble. It's just that we've learned later that self-esteem is a result, not a cause.' The problem is that when people try to boost self-esteem, they accidentally boost narcissism instead."

A generation of narcissists

Thinking well of yourself is indeed important, but the term "self-esteem" has come to mean something altogether different. Today's self-esteem looks much more like self-worship. I think what Brandon was really talking about could be described as "love of self." The ability to empathize with your own emotions… to offer yourself not excuses, but grace. It's a lost art today. We're so busy achieving, flooding our lives with activity, searching for the next virtual "like" or literal pat on the back, we don't have much time to know ourselves, let alone love the person we have grown to be.

Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. Confidence comes from competence — we do not bestow it as a gift.

According to Psychology Today, "Self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence — we do not bestow it as a gift."

The gift of failure

And by protecting our children from failure and pain, we only instill a belief that they are not enough. They cannot conquer without Mommy and Daddy's help. Shielding a child from encountering their own faults and weaknesses only provides them with an unrealistic sense of identity.

So how do we get this right? Can we give our parents' good intentions a new direction and raise children who are confident and self-aware rather than narcissistic and selfish? I think so. That's why I let my baby take her first (four-inch) fall from the mattress.

The Psychology Today article goes on, "...we need to allow them to struggle and strive without us. We must also allow them to occasionally fail. It is not fun, but it could be the greatest gift we provide them."

Just tell them you love them

They'll understand that life doesn't always go as we'd wish, but it's still awesome.

And so, I will clench my jaw at the playground. I will not assemble the science project. I will let my children fight on occasion. (I'll also fail to do these things once or twice.) In doing so, I'll give them the priceless gift of resilience. I'll give them a loving space in which they can test the limits of their strength. I'll communicate to them that they are strong, and even when they're not, the world won't end. They'll understand that life doesn't always go as we'd wish, but it's still awesome. If I can do this right, failure and struggle won't be crushing… they're just be stepping stones to a destination.

Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic, offers this advice: "Just tell your kids you love them. It's a better message." Now that's something I know I can achieve.

More on self-esteem

The myth of self-esteem
The right way to praise your children
A real look at a little girl's pageant life

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