Why all the Self-Esteem Talk?

My area of the country has an FM music station that advertises itself as “family-friendly.” It plays nothing but the latest Christian rock songs and although it has no commercials, it intersperses the music with vaguely Christianoid happy talk. Apparently it is sponsored by a consortium of Evangelical churches. The rest of my family enjoys it to a certain extent, so I have no choice but to listen from time to time.

One day, I heard one of their station breaks say approximately the following:

Children love it when their parents tell them how great they are! Call us and record an affirmation of your child that we can broadcast, and don’t forget to build up your child today by telling him how great he is!

Certainly it is good to commend your child for a job well done. And parents should generally be positive toward their children. But there is no mention here of waiting for the child to do something praiseworthy. Just tell them they’re great, out of the blue.

Typical postmodern drivel, but it caused me to consider why self-esteem has caught on as one of the important concepts of our age. I think one reason is that modern life is officially nihilistic—albeit nihilism with a happy face painted on it—and naturally children respond with despair, at least when they grow old enough to notice the nihilism.

If you’re a regular reader of the Orthosphere you don’t need to have the nihilism part explained. You know that the spirit of the times demands unlimited tolerance, nonjudgmentalism and openness, but if everything is equally valuable, then everything is also equally worthless. Many people attempt to cover the despair with mindless activity and selfishness, but the effort ultimately fails. We live in an officially nihilistic world, and children, being spiritually sensitive, understand.

That being so, many people evidently think the best way to cheer up the youngsters is not to teach them what they really need, the meaning to life, but to pump them up artificially with self-esteem talk. Instead of teaching the young that the God of the Bible exists and that they have a place in His kingdom, we are supposed to manufacture meaning and purpose by bare acts of the will, including telling one another how wonderful we are.

Another reason for children despairing is the epidemic of child abuse in the form of broken homes. Outright cruelty to children is bad enough, but our age actually encourages the cruelties of divorce and the neglect of children by permitting married people to divorce for no reason and by encouraging women to abandon their duties to their spouses and their children by telling them that they need to actualize their potential by pursuing out-of-the-home careers.


Aside from the fact that meaningless affirmations only increase the despair by convincing the child that the adult world is feeding him a line, these affirmations confirm some of a child’s worst tendencies.  Children, like mankind generally, are naturally lazy. They have a natural desire to obtain unearned value, including the unearned value of being told that they are great just because they are breathing. Let’s not pander to their base instincts.

Children need a mother and father who are married to each other and who live in the same house as the children. Children need to learn to become competent in the basic skills that will allow them to lead a productive life. They need to be instructed in the truths of Christianity and in proper morality. They need to learn about the history of their people, and to learn that their nation is good, not because it always does good, but because it is theirs. They need parents to correct them, firmly but lovingly, when they go wrong. They do not need constantly to be told how great they are.

14 thoughts on “Why all the Self-Esteem Talk?

  1. There are posters here and there around the campus where I work that urge students to commit “random acts of kindness.” Given that other posters urge them to attend The Vagina Monologues or yet another consciousness-raising session on this, that, or the other PC topic, you might think that the “random acts” poster would not bug me so much. But it does. Like the PSA on the feel-good radio station, it is, on closer examination, nihilistic. There are criteria for kindness; kindness is intentional and can therefore never be “random.” The kids absorb this stuff (they are extremely vulnerable to sloganeering) and since they’re not readers and have no actual discourse to bring to bear on propaganda phrases, they internalize them. It belongs to what I earlier called post-literacy.

  2. Pingback: Why all the Self-Esteem Talk? | Will S.' Miscellany

  3. I get the sense that parent’s stifling over-affirmation of their children (or single child in most instances nowadays) is overcompensation for the fact that many parents are too distracted with their careers. The home more resembles a worker’s dormitory each day.

    • They are, in other words, affirming their kids in order to affirm themselves as parents, and it is necessary that they affirm themselves as parents to avoid facing up to the fact that they are objectively terrible parents.

      The kids of course know that this is BS, as a result of which they internalize the message that emotive effusiveness covers a multitude of sins.

      And hence the modern liberal is born.

  4. I hear women talk about this reason for being Christian a lot.

    1) I wasn’t good enough
    2) Jesus thought I was good enough to die for
    3) Hence I follow Jesus

    I listened to a girl go on a rant the other day about how she never felt pretty or social enough until Jesus told her she was alright.

  5. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/02/12 | Free Northerner

  6. Rules for parents wrt self esteem:

    1. Don’t BS
    2. Praise honestly, don’t go overboard (participation trophies, “you’re the smartest X ever”, etc).
    3. Criticize honestly, don’t go overboard (perfectionism, overbearing parents, tiger moms, etc)

    Really, rules 2 and 3 are just extensions of rule 1.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s