Self-Esteem and Coddling Kids

George Will at Townhall comments on the dangers of coddling our children in order to preserve their precious self-esteem, and some of the myths perpetrated by the self-esteem crowd. Will column is a partial review of the book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children,” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which looks at how we treat our children, and how overprotecting them to save their self-esteem can cause more harm than good.

But the theory that praise, self-esteem and accomplishment increase in tandem is false. Children incessantly praised for their intelligence (often by parents who are really praising themselves) often underrate the importance of effort. Children who open their lunchboxes and find mothers’ handwritten notes telling them how amazingly bright they are tend to falter when they encounter academic difficulties. Also, Bronson and Merryman say that overpraised children are prone to cheating because they have not developed strategies for coping with failure.

“We put our children in high-pressure environments,” Bronson and Merryman write, “seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments.” But children excessively praised for their intelligence become risk averse in order to preserve their reputations. Instead, Bronson and Merryman say, praise effort (“I like how you keep trying”): It is a variable children can control.

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