Setbacks Make Us Stronger

  • Video Overview:

    For decades, American parents have heard that their most important task is to build up their children’s self-esteem. But some experts now say that effort has been misguided…and has had unintended consequences. A study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms that life’s challenges… a little adversity, even mundane experiences, contribute to building resilience.

    Despite earning only average grades, Christina says some of her teachers constantly showered her with compliments.

    “Finally you get to the point where you don’t appreciate their compliments anymore; you just kind of ignore them,” she says.

    Some experts say parents and teachers are afraid to let kids feel bad because it might damage their self-esteem. And so on many playing fields, everyone makes the team. At award ceremonies, everyone gets a ribbon. And in some schools, students are complimented just for showing up for class.

    “There’s no longer a sense of earning something, of being able to set a goal, work for it, accomplish it and know there are distinctions between who does a better performance and who does a less-than-perfect performance. It has to be something when we give the praise that is praiseworthy because if it gets watered down it, becomes meaningless to the child,” says Dr. Robert Simmermon, a psychologist.

    These days, Christina works hard at her part-time job as an assistant cook, and she’s getting better grades in school. What changed? She went to a new school two years ago where she was encouraged to achieve and praised for real accomplishments.

    “They push you harder and they tell you that you can do these things. They actually care about you. Like they make sincere pursuits for you to do things, and they’re happy whenever you achieve something,” Christina says.

    And that, in turn, has improved her self-esteem.

    “It’s kind of like having a second set of parents here because they just push you to do better and they praise you whenever you do really well and they’re happy when you’re happy,” she says.

    Discussion/Self-Reflection Questions

    A general increase in the self-esteem of American children is good news, right? Researchers at San Diego State University aren’t so sure. Their study of adolescents and college students from the 1960s to the 1990s does show an overall increase in self-esteem but suggests that the increase is not due to improvements in children’s behavior. Instead, the increase could be the result of educators and parents urging children to feel better about themselves. Do you agree or disagree? Do you believe that your parents and teachers have helped to foster your self-esteem?

    Why is self-esteem important? How would you rate your self-esteem? How has it changed throughout your elementary, middle and high school years?

    What can you do to impact the self-esteem of others? How does that impact your personal self-esteem?

  • Video Overview

    A study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms that life’s challenges… a little adversity, even mundane experiences, contributes to building resilience. What role does self-esteem play in academic success? How can a little failure serve each of us well?

    Print Support

    Share this Link