Strained Relations

Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens

Did the Self Esteem Movement Create an Entitled Generation?

Posted by Marcia on November 7, 2009

I’ve mulled over a lot of things I’ve experienced as a parent and a lot of things I’ve read, and would honestly say that I did do some things well and there are some things that I would absolutely change.

I have some serious concerns about the self-esteem movement and what the effects are on our kids.

Self-esteem is the way you think about yourself and this impacts the way you feel.  If you think you’re a good painter, you feel good about that skill and your confidence.  If you have a poor image of yourself and your abilities, it manifests in low self confidence and underachievement.

The self-esteem movement was a good idea run amok.  The idea of encouraging children to think well of themselves sounds like a good idea, but, like many things in life, it has to be earned to be appreciated.

Our son “J” was born in 1988, and I took him to Mommy and Me and toddler classes. I guess others were reading books I hadn’t read, but I remember the teacher and other moms saying “good job” whenever a child did anything. It didn’t matter what the child did, but the rewarding phrase was said. Kid finishes a project, eats his food, plays a game: “Good job.”

At home, if J picked up his toys, I said “thank you” or “that looks nice”. I felt that if I said “good job” to everything, then when he’d really do a good job of something, then what would I say and how would I make that meaningful?

We noticed that when he participated in team sports, even if their team lost, everyone got ribbons and sometimes trophies.  I guess the theory was that they wanted all the kids to feel like winners and therefore, it’d magically give them self-esteem and confidence, but I think that backfired.

If the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise a child who can operate in this world, overpraising for simply existing isn’t going to help. After all, how many managers stand around waiting to tell people they did a good job?  I can tell you from an HR perspective that some do but most expect you to do a good job, and if you do an extraordinary job, then maybe you’ll be noticed.  There are expectations that you’ll perform as you should, that poor work will be adversely noted and good work will be rewarded.

Young people steeped in the self-esteem movement resent not being continually verbally rewarded and when they simply complete a project.

I believe that good self-esteem and confidence result from completing projects, overcoming obstacles, leaping over barriers to success.  It can’t come as a result of continuous praise from others: you have to know it, to feel that accomplishment.

What are your thoughts?

13 Responses to “Did the Self Esteem Movement Create an Entitled Generation?”

  1. tobi zion said

    I beleive a big hug and unconditional love help build self esteem. If your child does a good job, it should be recognized– however,if he/she doesn’t do a good job, it should be recognized as well. Moderation and consistency together are key.

  2. Marcia said

    Thank you for commenting. I agree that moderation and consistency are key and I am all for hugs and love and wish teachers could safely express that, too. I guess that’s a different posting, though.

    I do believe that when a child is praised for everything as it removes the depth of meaning of praise. It’s like being around someone who flatters others constantly. After awhile, it’s just babble rather than a meaningful compliment.

    Meaningful praise and acknowledgment of good acts go a lot further than a constant “good job”.

  3. BVG said

    Is this based on the recent published “Nurtureshock” by Po Bronson? If not, you should probably put it on your “to read” list, as it would be of interest, based on this posting. You can get a preview at the website,

    • Marcia said

      Thank you for writing, but I have not read Mr. Bronson’s book. My book is about troubled teens and parenting them, and I have input from parents and professoinals. I’ve made a note of his book and will look at it when I have some time. As you may know, it’s not enought to write a book, you have to go promote it, and that’s my focus right now. Thank you again.

  4. William said

    I think that I agree with most of what you said. I think though that youth should be encouraged along the way to their acomplishments. And maybe that’s what you were talking about. Overall I hear you.
    I don’t tend to tell someone good job unless it is something that they wouldn’t ordinarily do, because they wouldn’t know to do, but things like closing and locking a door shouldn’t have to be praised if that child knows that they should do it already.
    I’m a college student/youth pastor. I’m doing a paper on the abandoned culture and the method by which we do youth ministry with today’s youth.

    • Marcia said

      Thank you for writing. I do believe in praising, complimenting and thanking people, but my concern is when we over-do it. I’m interested in hearing what you think about these matters from your perspective as a student and pastor. Thank you!

  5. Fern said

    Marcia, I agree completely. Ditto, ditto, ditto. If you want to read a great book about parenting and character education, pick up a copy of “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have” by Laura Malcolm Gauld. They are part of the Hyde School, a boarding school program our family was part of for two years. This program is family-based character education with an intensive parent program. In fact, I just helped facilitate a weekend for parents.

    As you said, the concept of self-esteem ran amok. The prevailing culture says, “If kids feel good about themselves, they will do good things.” What really builds strong individuals is “If kids do good things, they will feel good about themselves.” (taken from The Biggest Job) When they do good things, right things, and struggle with the difficult things, they will develop the necessary attitudes and character to take them through life successfully. This is part of my practice as a parent coach, too.

    Thank you for putting it out there. There are still many parents who don’t yet see that we are crippling our children with love. The kids don’t need our love so much as our leadership.

  6. Marcia said

    Thanks for your great post, Fern. For people interested in this topic, Fern has a great website at

  7. Levi said

    This is so true. As a person raised in that culture of ‘self-esteem’ I can see where it’s done me a lot of disservice. I got ribbons for every little stupid thing. Like reading; granted, I KNOW I’m an excellent reader, but did I really need eleventy billion ribbons for it? Nope. Not really. I was — and still am — pretty bad at math, but I’d get ribbons for everything I did in that, too. So I really had no need to really earn the praise. Nor did I even really want it, as a rule. I knew when the adults around me were handing me a load of bull. I think I threw most of those things away, because I was ashamed of getting a ribbon for a job I knew was NOT well done. I didn’t even care about graduating — it wasn’t hard, not really. I wasn’t prepared for college at all, and ended up dropping out because I didn’t want to do the hard work, nor was I prepared for it, even had I wanted to. I am still hard pressed to do hard work of any sort, and it bothers me, quite a lot. I’m 34 now, but I’m struggling to get to a point where I can do things well, because I /should/, not because I want the praise without the work.

    • Marcia said


      Thank you so much for writing this comment about the culture of “self esteem” and how damaging it was for you. I am approving your comment, and I wonder if you’d be interested in expanding up it for a separate blog post. Do you think you’d like to do that?



      • Levi said

        Sure. I’m nervous about it, of course, but I’m willing to give it a shot. Thanks for offering!

      • Marcia said

        There is not rush, take your time. You can view other posts to get an idea of how long it should be, the effects on you, and what you’re doing to change yourself, too. I can post with your first name or you can choose a separate name to protect yourself.

        Thanks for considering!

  8. Levi said

    No prob. Maybe what I write can help other people understand the difference between real self esteem and the fakery that’s touted now.

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