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Self-Esteem and Character
Want to raise a good person? Stop nurturing your child’s self-esteem.


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Dennis Prager

Though I always opposed undeserved self-esteem, I, too, had bought into the belief that self-esteem in children is vital. But as soon as Rosemond said what he said, I realized he was right.

And since he said that, I have analyzed the finest adults I know well. It turns out that none had high self-esteem as a child. In fact, most of them “suffered” — as it would now be deemed — from low self-esteem.

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To cite one example, one of the finest human beings I have ever known — an individual of extraordinary courage, integrity, and selflessness — had a father who constantly berated this person as worthless and stupid.

Now, this father was, to put it mildly, a sick man. And he did indeed have a negative psychological impact on his child — to this day this person has low self-esteem. But it had no negative impact on this individual’s sterling character.

The more I have thought about it, the more I have put Baumeister’s and Rosemond’s insights together.

If Baumeister is right and violent criminals have higher self-esteem than most people, and if Rosemond is right and people who do not grow up with high self-esteem are more likely to be among the finest human beings, then society has the strongest interest in not promoting self-esteem among children. Society’s sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem.

Now, let me be clear. No one is recommending that parents refuse to praise, or seek to cultivate low self-image in, their children. And children should know their parents love them. But if raising a good adult is the primary task of a parent — and it surely must be — trying to give one’s child high self-esteem is not helpful, and it can easily be counterproductive.

If you don’t agree with this conclusion, do the following: Ask the finest people you know how much self-esteem they had as a child. Then ask all the narcissists you know how much their parent(s) praised them.

— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. He may be contacted through his website, dennisprager.com.



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