Why Teaching Self Worth Should Be A Top Priority
Stroll down the aisle of any book store and you will find a cornucopia of books on the subject of self-esteem. According to pretty much every expert, the pursuit of self-worth runs deep within the human condition. How we feel about ourselves is an important factor in our ability to thrive in life.
As parents, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to help each of our children develop a healthy sense of self. But how exactly do we teach our children self-esteem?
A Question of Nature vs. Nurture
There are different camps when it comes to self-worth. For years, it was believed that attachment was one of the key components in developing a healthy sense of self-esteem.
John Bowlby (1980), the father of attachment theory, argued that children who experienced a supportive, nurturing environment in the first few years of their lives, would go on to develop a secure base, thus feel worthy and deserving of love.
But over the years, research began to suggest that self-esteem may be a bit more complicated than that, and might be less about the environment, and more about genetics. Surprising research in recent years suggests that self-esteem could in fact be genetically predisposed.
A study published in 2009 followed 3700 pairs of twins, both identical and fraternal ranging in ages seven to ten years of age. Researchers found that the children’s self-confidence, or their perception of themselves, was equally influenced by hereditary and IQ (Graven, Harlan, Kivas, Chamorro & Pluming, 2009).
That still doesn’t ensure that some people are guaranteed a successful or charmed life, because there are other factors involved, but it does help to explain why two different people raised in the same environment go on to have vastly different perceptions of themselves and their abilities.
Have We Gone Too Far?
In recent years, there has been a lot of noise that all this emphasis on self-esteem could be backfiring and creating a “me” generation. Is it possible that the inception of the Internet is responsible for an over-inflated sense of individual worth? Well, can anyone say “selfie?”
Culture plays a big role in the development of self-esteem in our children. In America, it’s said that: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” while in Japan: “The nail that stands out gets pounded down.” These polar ideologies suggest that American parents try to raise their children to be independent, self-reliant, and assertive, while Japanese children are raised to conform and strive to fit into their groups and communities.
Cultural differences like these could be a key factor why so many people suffer from low self-esteem in this country. America is obsessed with eternal youth and physical beauty—especially for women. If you look at almost any medium today, it’s no mystery that our daughters are consistently less satisfied with their weight and body type than our sons.
Cultural expectations do matter, especially when you factor in that America is a melting pot. How often does a child from another cultural background get placed into a classroom only to have their self-esteem chipped away over time due to a lack of understanding of their customs and beliefs?
In certain cultures “obese” women are considered attractive, yet an American study conducted in 2000 showed that obese Hispanic and white females demonstrated significantly lower levels of self-esteem by early adolescence. In addition to this low self- perception, they showed higher rates of sadness, isolation, and nervousness, making it more likely for them to engage in high risk behavior like smoking and consuming alcohol (Strauss, 2000).
If society plays a key function in how our children see their value, then we have to face the harsh reality that we can teach our children to love themselves, but societal and cultural messages will likely play a major factor in either hindering or facilitating their self-esteem.
It's A Personal Journey
While this probability may feel overwhelming as you tuck your baby into bed tonight far away from cultural pressures, the take-away is this: It doesn’t matter how much we TELL our children that they are loved or valued; their self-esteem is a personal journey.
I know that can be a hard pill to swallow, but over time, there is a peace that comes with this knowledge.
I can say with my own daughters that the love and attention I gave them in the early years may very well be the reason they possess a core strength which continually aids them in cycling through the inevitable ebbs and flows of living in such a complicated world.
Finding the Right Balance
In our desire to help our children develop self-esteem, it’s important to create balance. If we over-idealize our children and place unrealistic demands upon them, they can begin to feel that they must be perfect, and eventually experience a sense of rejection when perfection is not achieved.
But if we slack off, it’s likely, depending on their personality, that they may get lost or swallowed up by the world and its relentless and unrealistic expectations.
It is our job to let home be the place where they don’t have to be perfect or try to fit in. It is a corner of the world where they are allowed to make mistakes and find total acceptance.
At the end of the day, our self-esteem helps us write our life script. It challenges us to go out and make our mark in the world and it soothes and strengthens us, making it possible to pick ourselves up when life hands us lemons.
Our children need healthy self-esteem in order to develop the strength and resiliency required to handle life’s disappointments and to reach new horizons. As parents, our responsibility to our children is simply to love, nurture, and protect them. It’s not to find the way for them.
Here is the key to teaching your kids how to cultivate self-regard: You can’t just preach self-love. You have to lead by example. If you haven’t learned to love yourself, then now is the time to begin that journey.
Have you found the perfect balance in helping your child develop their self-esteem? Tell us what works (and what doesn’t!) in the comments below.
Bowlby, J (1980). Attachment & loss: Vol3 loss, sadness and depression. New York: Basic books
Graven, C. U., Harlan, N., Kivas, Y., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Plomin, R. (2009). More than just IQ: School achievement is predicted by self-perceived Abilities—but for genetic rather than environmental reasons. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 20(6), 753-762. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280 Tracy, J. L., Cheng, J. T., Robins, R. W., & Trzesniewski, K. H. (2009). Authentic and hubristic pride: The affective core of self-esteem and narcissism. Self and Identity, 8(2-3),
Strauss, R,S, MD(2000). Childhood obesity and self-esteem. Pediatrics, vol 105(1) Retrieved 6/10/11 EricTags : conscious parenting mindful parenting self worth self esteem confidence emotional health