Tuesday 12 December 2017

The thing is... Your 30-second guide to everything: Self-esteem

What: Self-esteem. Or rather, self-esteem as a Big Idea - and the corresponding deliberate attempts to bolster it, particularly in children. This began in the late 1980s, and has been the cornerstone of child-rearing ever since, a kind of one-size-fits-all Pathway to Better.

Why: The theory took off that social ills, including crime, substance abuse and unemployment could be put down to low self-esteem. The solution? Bump it up. Tell the kids they're wonderful and special, and they will grow up believing they can do anything. Society will be full of can-do achievers, and we'll all be happy.

Why Now: Because it didn't work. The Great Self-Esteem Experiment did not solve all our problems, and may even have led to a generation who are needy and emotionally fragile; used to endless praise - medals for 10th place! - and unable to do without it. Actually, the experiment may have been flawed to begin with. Much of this started with a task force by the University of California into 'the social importance of self-esteem', the results from which, we now know, were 'sexed up.'

How: No one is arguing that feeling good about yourself is important, but it seems there is a 'right' way and a 'wrong' way to go about encouraging this. The wrong way is blanket approval: 'you're amazing!' 'You're unique!' The right way? Praise specifics, especially effort and process.

Who: Devotees of the Human Potential Movement and pretty much every self-help guru going, Oprah Winfrey, almost all celebrities, with special mention going to Drew Barrymore, Emma Watson, Tyra Banks and Will Smith.

Sunday Independent

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