It seems Jennifer Kaczor, despite being a conservative mother, has had a few problems with her seven children. In "Trouble With A Teenage Padawon," she relates the sad tale of her teenage daughter's involvement with...a boy. It seems that her 14-year-old was sneaking around to see her boyfriend, having wisely assumed that her mother would not let her have a normal teen relationship. Kaczor relates how she had no idea of the sneaking and had to be informed of her daughter's actions by the mother of the boyfriend. To punish her daughter, Kaczor told the girl to stop seeing the boy, took away her phone, and patted herself on the back for her good parenting. Then she tells us how daughter immediately switched over to communicating with the boyfriend via computer. It's a typical tale which will no doubt end in an unfortunate early marriage or college years spent making up for lost time, but Kaczor seems to have enjoy the martyrdom she endures for her children.
However, the best was yet to come. In You Can’t Keep My Child Down, No Matter How Hard I Try!, Kaczor tells us how she ensures that none of her children will ever have any self-esteem if she has anything to say about it.
Well, it’s over. Summer vacation, that glorious time of year when parents don’t fret about their children’s I.Q, is over. The beginning of a new school year means the beginning of a new race, and though Vicki Abeles was quite right in her assessment that we are racing to nowhere, it seems most people still want to get there first. In an effort to reassure themselves, parents will soon be bragging about the academic achievements and sporting conquests of their offspring. Everyone’s self-esteem will be exceedingly high. Except mine. And my kids’. I’m not sure which came first, my distaste of high self-esteem, or my lack of anything to warrant it. Either way, in the Kaczor family, we’ve taken to bragging about our humility.Already Kaczor has fallen into the sing-song patter of someone who has read and recited the same words a thousand times, like a church liturgy. She begins with an appeal to the tribe's vanity ("academic achievements and sporting conquests"), raises an obligatory boogeyman, ("we are racing to nowhere"), denigrates the opponent ("Everyone’s self-esteem will be exceedingly high"), claims exceptionalism ("Except mine"), and finally blows a Christian dog-whistle ("humility"). She is thorough, if nothing else.
Training starts early with the intention of developing a child who is astonished by the smallest compliment.
How horrible. Children need love and praise to feel good about themselves. They want to be good and need to be taught how to understand themselves. These Cornerites don't even think their children deserve basic politeness.
Toddlers are told to “put a sock in it.”
That teaches him that he is not respected because people don't have to be polite to him. It teaches his siblings the same lesson.
“Not everything that passes through your little mind needs to be verbalized,” I explain.
You're stupid, shut up.
Later, when the kids start school and are told by well-meaning teachers that “there are no stupid questions,” I take them aside and inform them that, in fact, most questions are stupid. “Don’t just raise your hand to raise your hand,” I warn, “any dolt can do that.” “And for God’s sake, if you don’t know the answer, don’t raise it at all.”Kids don't volunteer when they don't know the answer; they do their best to avoid attention. All a child will get out of this advice is that dolts ask a lot of questions.
And when visiting other people’s homes, I instruct them to “make yourself scarce.” “Don’t stand around waiting to be entertained: the less the hostess sees of you, the better she’ll like you.”People don't like you. Go away.
You might think that my kids are emotional wrecks. Ha! The truth is, it’s not easy to keep a child down. My kids are very nearly as full of themselves as their peers are.Which is why she is about to describe the depth of her son's insecurity, to her approval.
In addition to occasionally telling them that we love them, my husband and I made the mistake of telling them how much God loves them. Once that cat was out of the bag, there was no stopping them. Had we added to that arsenal, praise for every half-witted comment or slapped-together art project, we’d have raised children who were Disney Channel parodies of themselves.This woman is deluding herself. It might make her feel godly to say Jesus loves you this I know, but an abstract concept is no substitute for a parent. If God's love were sufficient to give everyone self-esteem, we wouldn't have so many malevolent authoritarians.
Still, it’s a battle. The other day my nine-year-old, who fancies himself a young Johnny Carson, was going through his entire repertoire of voices during the bitter end of a road trip. “George!” I screamed. “Put a sock in it!” My husband, worried that I might be stifling a lucrative career, asked me if I thought I might be doing just that. Before I could answer, George announced his intention to become a squirrel when he grows up. “No dear,” I replied, “I don’t think so.”In other words, he's eleven. Boys his age are often like this. But children should not have to earn self-esteem; the very least parents can do is pass on to their child a belief that he is valued and loved. Authoritarians believe the child owes the parent obedience and that showing love means enforcing obedience. Since they do not have much empathy, they discount the distress they are inflicting on their child.
George is irrepressible. But my other children have taken my training more seriously. William, a tall boy of eleven who resembles Huck Finn in taste and temperament, is used to teachers and coaches’ being disappointed in him. His homework, when completed, is forgotten. His calisthenics are lazy, and his running is lackadaisical. Other than his shy smile and intermittent kindness, he’s earned no real self-esteem and, consequently, has no real self-esteem. In short, he’s my kind of kid.
We have gone too far in praising kids and giving them seriously inflated ideas of themselves. This, I guess, could be dismissed as relatively benign, except that science has shown that the higher a person’s self-esteem, the less moral they tend to be (see Dr. Baumeister’s research).
Kaczor links to a google search that does nothing to prove her claim. Baumeister says, "Psychologists everywhere were persuaded that if only we could help people to accept and love themselves more, their problems would gradually vanish and their lives would flourish. They would even treat each other better." He concluded that such programs didn't work and therefore self-esteem should be replaced with self-control. Like many conservatives, Kaczor thinks self-esteem is the same as vanity.
In other words, the more they think of themselves, the less they think of others. The second conversation happened in the same way, but this time, the daughter didn’t just enjoy dancing, she was, according to her dear mama, “a dancer.” Yes, and my 15-year-old daughter who contrives excellent excuses for not cleaning her room is not just argumentative, she’s “a lawyer.”Two things:
I have never told my children that they are “athletes.” I have told them to be good sports, to encourage their teammates, to listen to their coach, and to play hard. This summer, William began playing basketball, and I issued the usual instructions. Because of his height, I told him to get as many rebounds as possible. But William is an erratic player. For the time being, you get what you get with William. Following one game in which he did not play particularly well, he turned to me and said, “That’s it. The coach hates me. And, by the way, I’m flunking basketball.”
“Flunking basketball?” I repeated. “You can’t flunk basketball. It’s not even a class! You are not flunking basketball.” I assured him. “Wanna bet?” he countered. “The coach hates me, he thinks I’m horrible, and he’s flunking me.” Confused by this sudden outburst, I demanded to know why William was taking such a hard view of things. “I saw his clipboard, Mom, and there is an F next to my name! Explain that!” he challenged.
In case you aren’t a big basketball fan, I’ll explain it to you as I explained it to William. “The ‘F,’ you nut, stands for “‘Forward.’” It took a second to register, and then William looked at me with his shy smile. “That makes sense,” he concluded, “because Gordie has a ‘G’ next to his name and he’s not just good, he’s really good.” “And Alex has a ‘C,’” William continued, “and he definitely deserves an A.” I put my arm around William’s waist and pulled him toward my chest. “And you, my little friend, don’t deserve an F.” I insisted. William just shrugged and smiled. If he keeps this up, I’ll soon be as insufferable as the other mothers; bragging about my son, “the martyr.”
First, even eleven year olds know that they don't get a grade for after school activities and also know that G is not a grade. It's hard to believe that Kaczor made up this charming anecdote but it is hard to believe she didn't.
Second, why would she brag about her son acting like a martyr, especially after she has just bragged about his self-esteem?
Dennis Prager agrees that self-esteem is bad.
We think too highly of ourselves.
Self-esteem frequently runs counter to goodness. Raising children with self-esteem sounds great, but when unearned — which it usually is — it leads to bad results. In fact, it is people who do not have particularly high self-esteem, people who feel that they constantly have to prove their worth, who are more likely to act good. And it is violent criminals who have the highest self-esteem — “I am better than others and can therefore do whatever I want.”
Sadly, no. People with low self-esteem will do terrible things to feel better about themselves, including crimes and cruelties such as emotionally abusing their children.