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What's the perfect level of self-esteem?

By November 12, 2008 - 9:36am
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Today's news on teens and self-esteem notes that there has been such growth in teens who feel confident about themselves that in fact the principles that helped that self-esteem grow may have gone too far.

The researchers asked teenagers 13 questions that had to do with their self-view, and compared the answers given in 1975 and 2006.

Some results of the study, which was published in the Nov. issue of Psychological Science:

In 1975, about 37 percent thought they would be "very good" spouses; about the same number thought they'd be "very good" parents, and about 50 percent thought they'd be "exemplary" workers.

In 2006, about 56 percent thought they'd be "very good" spouses, 54 percent thought they'd be "very good" parents, and almost 66 percent thought they'd be "exemplary" workers.

Teens in 2006 were also more likely to report themselves as A students, rated their level of intelligence higher and were more likely to say they were "completely satisfied" with themselves.

So what could be wrong with that?

"What this shows is that confidence has crossed over into overconfidence," said Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University and one of the researchers.

She worries that the trend of uncritical boosterism by parents and schools may be resulting in "a generation of kids with expectations that are out of sync with the challenges of the real world.

"High school students' responses have crossed over into a really unrealistic realm, with three-fourths of them expecting performance that's effectively in the top 20 percent," Twenge said.

It feels a little like Goldilocks and the three bears -- this number is not enough, but that number is too much. What's the perfect amount of self-esteem?

Here's the article:


Add a Comment2 Comments

As a former straight-A kid, I can tell you that I worked really hard for my grades. I'm sure that not all kids do, and that it comes easier to some than it does to others. I think that one reason there may be more straight-A kids these days is that it seems teachers have done away with the Bell curve -- and 90 and up is an A, no matter now many kids get that score. (Which I approve of, having been the victim of the Bell curve in my lifetime! What weird punishment, having a grade be dictated by what others in your class did!)

I am not a parent, but I know if I were that it would hurt to see my children disappointed, or told they can't do something, or lose at something. But I would rather they learn how to handle those things while they are young and live at home. It seems to me that parents who let their children believe that the world revolves around them are setting up that child for a huge shock when he or she leaves home.

You want a child to believe that they're great just because they are here, and are who they are. But you also want them to believe they can accomplish anything they want to (with hard work), and that the only limits in the world are the ones they set for themselves. Is that an unrealistic hope? Can kids get to college, and then out in the world, with a level sense of who they are? It seems like high school -- both when I went and today -- can sometimes just be an exercise in tearing down kids' self esteem. Kids can be so mean to one another that I wonder which message is easier for a teen to hear -- the one that says they're great, which their parent has instilled in them, or the one that says they're inferior, which is what other kids might say.

Clearly, if they all think they'll automatically be great spouses and parents, they're doing ok. It'll be interesting to see what answers teens give in another 10 or 15 years to those questions, won't it?

November 13, 2008 - 9:55am
HERWriter Guide

Self esteem! A big topic these days! Great food for thought, Diane!

While I think that the old ways of "to spare the rod..." and "children should be seen and not heard.." were wrong, wrong, wrong - we seemed to have done a 180 to the point that our children think they are the center of the universe for everyone.

Good self-esteem is feeling comfortable in one's own skin, to be assured of one's path in life and to love oneself despite, or maybe because of, one's faults and failings. Self-esteem should not be thinking we are perfect or always right and self-esteem is not arrogance or vanity.

Levels of self-esteem vary from person to person but as parents, we sometimes think that putting our children first, every time, is the right thing to do and will make our children confident that they are headed in the right direction. Not true.

I have been to playdates at people's homes where the kids constantly interrupt the adults over minor details or Look at Me! being shouted over and over and I wonder if I'm the only parent who advises their children not to interrupt when adults are talking unless there is something serious happening. Don't get me wrong, I look at my kids and encourage them and admire their achievements but I don't subscribe to the 'everyone's a winner' mantra because it's simply not true.

Childhood is full of innocence and wonder and I encourage that. And I am not trying to burst bubbles in order to warn my kids about the harshness of life. But the world does not revolve around my kids and they will not be Number One in everything they do. They will indeed fail - and that's ok. We learn as much from our mistakes or failures and we do our successes. Occasionally, we learn more.

Promoting a Straight A culture (the percentage of straight A students at Harvard now is huge!) and that everyone gets a prize no matter what the effort does not help with self-esteem! It promotes a false sense of accomplishment and the notion that hard work doesn't necessarily pay off because one gets a prize anyway - if not, one's feelings will get hurt, and heaven forbid that happens!

I find it a bit funny that teens assume they'll be fantastic spouses and employees when they have tried neither! I'm all for optimism but a little reality (not to mention experience!) helps too :)

Who deserves the bigger applause - the genius who effortlessly gets an A+ in everything or the challenged kid who works day and night and pulls off several Bs and a couple of Cs?

November 12, 2008 - 1:30pm
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