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The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance Paperback – September 2, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Young-Eisendrath, a Vermont-based Jungian analyst, practicing Buddhist and author (Women and Desire), identifies a threatening and perplexing problem she calls the self-esteem trap. Today's children and young adults are suffering from a number of symptoms, including obsessive self-focus, restless dissatisfaction, pressures to be exceptional, unreadiness to accept responsibilities and feelings of either superiority or inferiority. According to the author, instead of contentment and positive self-regard, kids raised to believe they are extraordinary or special are more likely to be unhappy and disappointed. Being ordinary and realizing one's connection to the human community is the real key to happiness, she argues, and cultivating the qualities of generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom will lead to children who are self-confident and content. She also warns against parents who run interference, protecting their children from inevitable disappointments. Instead, letting kids develop autonomy and experience the consequences of their decisions, she claims, is the way to go. At times, Young-Eisendrath's scope seems unwieldy, but her message rings true. (Sept.)
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- Jean M. Twenge, PhD '...a truly helpful book on parenting * JACK Kornfield * Incisive, persuasive, practical and wise...an immensely valuable, reliable and engaging book * - Edward M. Hallowell, MD 'Parents want what's best for their children and THE SELF-ESTEEM TRAP is - finally - the book that delivers' *
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In "The Self-Esteem Trap" Polly Young-Eisendrath is concerned to delineate how we got our kids into this "self-esteem trap" of too much praise and entitlement for too little effort, and offer advice as to how we can bring them out of it. In her opinion, it started with the '60's and thte "I'm okay, you're okay" movement in parenting. Unlike past generations, parents tried to deal with kids more as equals; creativity and expression was never to be stifled, authority and rules were seen as over-burdensome, and children were seen (albeit undeliberately) as fragile. Paradoxically, the good intentions of trying to take limits off of kids, and desiring for kids to feel terrific about themselves, ended in kids that were more miserable and unable to cope with stress.
Young-Eisendrath goes on to spell out several particular things she finds lacking in today's youth, offering evidence from studies and her own interviews (with patients and those who work with children) for support. The author suggests that today's children are not (a) learning how to deal with adversity and disappointment; (b) learning how to problem-solve real-world situations, and (c) learning how to feel average, rather than extraordinary (humble, rather than brilliant).
Most of the book focuses on these three problems and their corroolaries: kids today are either experiencing too little guidance (from laisseez-faire parents who don't teach their kids the importance of virtues like patience and persistence), or overprotected (by "hellicopter parents" who fly over their kids to ensure that they never have to face consequences or problem-solve their own dilemmas). The author talks about strategies for raising well-balanced kids that respect authority, can cope with disappointment, and know how and why "virtue" sitll matters. (One particularly interesting suggestion is the weekly "house meeting" where the family gathers to openly discuss problems, succcesses, failures, and solutions).
As a special educator, I recognize many of my students in this book. Today's kids are uncommonly unused to disappointment and carry a large sense of entitlement. (I am owed a good grade, because I've shown up to class, and did a few assignments.) The best thing about this book, though, is the author's calm, rational, and never-accusatory tone. She is as interested in outlaying the problem (and what she sees as its origin) as she is about giving ideas towards a solution. Far from a book crabbing about how we need to revert to the parenting of yore, Young-Eisendrath wants to figure out forward-looking solutions to the crisis.
I strongly reccomend this book both to those who are predisposed to agree with its thesis, and (especially) those who might not. "The Sel-Esteem Trap" offers much for us to think about.
"America's children are suffering from a particularly threatening and perplexing problem. Obsessive self-focus, restless dissatisfaction, pressure to be exceptional, feelings of superiority (or inferiority) and excessive fears of being humiliated-- these are the pervasive symptoms of the self-esteem trap."
"Today's parents tens to offer too much approval and enthusiasm for their children's very existence, disrupting the child's growing ability to discern the truth about her own effects and actions. Effusively praising every step she tales, every task she completes, every soccer play she executes, and every book she reads fosters the self-esteem trap. If nothing is expected as an ordinary part of becoming a civilized member of a human group, then a child may come to feel important for breathing-- a belief that will not serve him well." With the unfortunate result being: children lose confidence in their own capacity to assess themselves and them (teens especially) very susceptible to peer pressure and pop culture.
"Our late-twentieth-century cultural focus one every being a winner has led to an epidemic of exaggerated, and unusually negative, self-consciousness in children and youth."
HOwever, that said, I plan to use several of these pieces of advice and ways of thinking in my own life with my own children--especially the chapter on being ordinary. I think it is important to raise children who think of others before themselves and realize their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as being able to think and solve their own problems. I am a HELICOPTER parent by nature, so this is taking a lot of work for me. It's one of my summer projects. Chore lists for my children--here we come!
I recommend this book for ALL parents today. It will be an eye opener, but there are practical tips that you can put into practice the minute you read them!