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Why the Self-Esteem Movement Needs to End with us

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A lot of us were raised in the 1980s Self Esteem Movement. Here’s how to make sure we don’t pass it along to our kids.


Do you remember the color of the couch you were sitting on when you watched your first American Idol contestant, full of bravado and assurance, completely bomb? I do. It was purple. The memory is ingrained forever, because it was shocking to watch a family cheer on its star singer who was not only tone deaf, wrong key, off-beat, cringe-worthy, but also extremely confident. The young performer was surprised when Simon gave the thumbs down. And yet, that singer was among many others with similar performances; self-assured, and ear-splitting.

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What’s happening here, all of America is wondering?

It’s the effect of the 1980s Self Esteem Movement, on primetime television. The movement delivered a message that we can manufacture confidence for ourselves; whip it up out of nothing. If we simply told ourselves we were talented, a great singer, a great boss, we were such things, no work necessary. While self-esteem (confidence in one’s abilities) isn’t bad, it can be skewed easily if those abilities are not earned.

Why the Self-Esteem Movement Needs to End with us

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The Self Esteem Movement resulted in children who were not challenged or stretched, were protected from failures and did not have the skills to deal with adversity. An inflated sense of self-replaced hard work. The problem comes when reality kicks in; a comment from Simon Crowell, a rejection letter, poor scores or a big loss are punctures to an inflated balloon; they pop and the air pours out.

We are now grappling with how to nurture self-confidence in our children in a healthier way.

There are many positive answers that are working. We have emotional intelligence curriculum in our schools, more awareness of the “lawnmower” or “snowplow” parent, the introduction of “grit” in child development. We have playgrounds that offer more risk. My sons have yet to receive a “participation ribbon” in their activities.

The Self Esteem Movement resulted in children who were not challenged or stretched, were protected from failures and did not have the skills to deal with adversity.

As Christian parents, I think it’s really important to analyze our own behavior and root out any negative influences. We can provide real-life challenges, let our children fail, give them proper language to identify their emotions, relate to them through stories, teach self-control and expect obedience and change our language when they present us with a gloopy art project: “…you’ve worked hard on this, I can tell!” We must give our children an accurate and positive sense of self.

The Bible gives us a strong message when it comes to teaching our kids how to view themselves, and it is simple. God made us and loves us, and He is God and we are not.

We believe that God created us, each individual and unique, the hairs on our head counted. This is radical and freeing; knowing we are special not because we say it about ourselves, but because God says it about us. It is based in the truth of our Creator. The Bible also tells us that we are not God. What a relief! With time, our children will learn the world doesn’t revolve around them, and they have good work to do here; to love God and to love others as themselves. Growing their sense of self based out of their relationship with God won’t fail them; children will then begin to understand others in the same light. Created by God, and not God.

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This message is the foundation for teaching our children healthy self-esteem.

It will inform their sense of self and give them a powerful role in their relationships. It is refreshing to see our schools and current research adjust to a healthier message for our children. A strong self-esteem can be built by challenges, failures, emotional intelligence, empathy for others, choices and independence, age-appropriate autonomy, quality time with loved ones and even chores. These are all things we can incorporate into our households, building upon the solid basis of our identity in Christ.