Summary: Kids today are depressed and anxious. They also seem to feel entitled to every advantage and unwilling to make the leap into adulthood. As Polly Young-Eisendrath makes clear in this brilliant account of where a generation has gone astray, parents trying to make their children feel special are unwittingly interfering with their kids' ability to accept themselves and cope with life. Clarifying an enormous cultural change, THE SELF-ESTEEM TRAP shows why so many young people have trouble with empathy and compassion, struggle with moral values, and are stymied in the face of adversity. Young-Eisendrath offers prescriptive advice on how adults can help kids--through the teen and young adult years--develop self-worth, setting them on the right track to productive, balanced, and happy lives. -- Little, Brown and Company
I'm not a huge fan of self-help books, but I thought THE SELF-ESTEEN TRAP, RAISING CONFIDENT AND COMPASSIONATE KIDS IN AN AGE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE by Polly Young - Eisendrath, PhD sounded like one that I definitely needed to take a look at. My nine year old daughter has been having a tough time of things since she started fourth grade. She's a terrific kid who's very sweet, smart, and cute (but I am her mom!) However, she's having a hard time finding a BFF. It seems that all the girls have a best friend and she's feeling a little left out. I figured it a book could help me help her, then it was definitely worth my time.
As I started to read this book, I quickly recognized that the book actually deals with a problem that my friends and I talk about all the time! There are so many kids and grown-ups out there who can't handle any disappointment. I agree with Dr. Young-Eisendrath that parents are the main cause of this problem. In the past 30 years or so, we have drastically changed how we parent our children. Kids are now the focal point of our households (mine included.) We constantly try to build their self-esteem by complimenting them all the time and telling them that they are "special." Unfortunately, this parenting approach is backfiring for some of us. While we might think that we are building their self-esteem by complimenting them, we might actually be making them expect this type of treatment throughout their lives and setting them up for disappointment. I mean when was the last time someone told you how "special" you were for vacuuming the house or driving the kids to soccer practice?
As parents, we also try to give them everything and make sure that they never feel any disappointment. I'm not saying that all of this is bad, but I do think the author has a valid point. Many children are becoming more and more self-absorbed, always have to be "the best," and consider themselves unfulfilled or even unhappy when they don't live up to their expectations. I am very worried that what I'm doing as a parent will lead my children into "The Self-Esteem Trap."
This book really resonated with me. After I finished reading it, I immediately handed it to my husband and asked him to read it too. He is a big believer in almost everything the author talks about in this book -- mainly that we need to let our children deal with disappointment (even though it often times goes against our natural inclinations to protect them.) While I agree with Dr. Young-Eisendrath's philosophy, I do tend to baby my kids more than my husband; and I do find myself trying to always make things "okay" for them. I hate to see them hurting, but I know that I need to accept that it's okay for them to be sad. Life is definitely going to throw my kids some curveballs (now and as adults,) and it's best for them to learn to deal with these challenges. I realize that I'm going to have to let them deal with things so they will one day become happy, functional adults.
There were a few things that I especially enjoyed about this book. One was how Dr. Young-Eisendrath defined the three types of parenting styles -- Laissez-Faire Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, and Role-Reversal Parenting. It didn't take me long to see which one I fell into! In addition throughout the book, she gave wonderful examples to help support her ideas. I not only recognized myself in the cases, but I also recognized many of my friends and their children. When I read the author's explanations for both the parent's actions as well as the effect it has on the children, I thought it all made a lot of sense. Finally, I really like the author's overall message that it's important for our children to be "grounded in their shared humanity and interdependence." If we encourage our children to be compassionate towards other and understand their role in this world, they are much more likely to have a positive view of themselves.
I realize that Dr. Young-Eisendrath's book won't appeal to everyone, but I do think she makes some very good points. I want to be a parent who equips her children with the life-skills that they need to be independent adults. Will I totally change my parenting style after reading this book? I feel as if my husband and I are doing some things very right, but I do think I will make some additional changes. There is definitely one thing that I need to reconsider: I am one of those mothers who are always telling their kids how "special" they are. I do believe my kids are "special," but only as "special" as all the other children out there (maybe I should start telling them that they are unique.) I don't want my children thinking that they are prettier, smarter, "better" than other kids out there; and I do like the author's concept that ordinary is okay (I mean how many adults are truly spectacular -- rich, beautiful, famous, etc.) In addition, I know that I need to let them work through things on their own. While I think that I'm helping them by stepping in to solve their problems, I'm actually sending a message that they can't resolve things themselves and that they need someone to "save" them.
Although I do agree with so much in this book, I am worried that I won't be building my children's self-esteem if I make all of these changes. In the back of my mind, I understand the logic of what the author is saying; but as a mother, I want to support them. I think there's probably a very fine line of supporting your children and building their self-esteem without going overboard. I think my challenge will be finding that line and then staying on it!
On Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to be included in a conference call with Dr. Polly Young-Eisendrath. The participants all submitted their questions ahead of time, and we had the chance to hear Dr. Young-Eisendrath answer them. I found the Q&A to be very extremely interesting. Dr. Young-Eisendrath reinforced many of the themes in her book. I specifically asked her if she's received any criticism about the book. She told us that she's had a lot of positive feedback from adults who grew up in "the self-esteem trap" as well as teachers, professors, and other psychologists who deal with young adults; however, she admitted that most of the critics are mothers of young children. If you would like to learn more about the book and the author, check out the book's website. There is a lot of wonderful information for parents as well as Dr. Young-Eisendrath's advice and wisdom.
I think this book is a valuable parenting tool; and I just happen to have five copies to share with you courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA! Please leave a comment with your e-mail address to enter. If you would like to double your chances, blog about this contest with a link back to this post! The contest will run until Friday, October 3rd at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will be selecting the winners on Saturday, October 4rd. Unfortunately, this contest is open to mailing addresses in the U.S. and Canada only! Good luck!