SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. After an entire
generation of parents and teachers have worked hard to improve
their childrens self-esteem, the level of depression in
young people has skyrocketed. And according to Martin Seligman,
PhD (a researcher who has spent his lifetime studying depression
and ways out of it), the two are intimately linked.
In his book, The Optimistic Child, Seligman writes, By
emphasizing how a child feels at the expense of what the
child does mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration
and boredom, and meeting challenge parents and teachers
are making this generation of children more vulnerable to depression.
And hes got a lot of research to back him up.
Theres nothing wrong with trying
to improve a childs self-esteem. Feeling good about yourself
is healthy and valuable. But the way you improve self-esteem
makes a big difference. When it is done with compliments, even
if children feel better about themselves, they will be more vulnerable
to depression when they hit one of lifes inevitable setbacks.
They may feel good about themselves, but if they are weak and
incompetent, life will eventually take them down.
On the other hand, if we try to improve
our childrens self-esteem by helping them learn to overcome
barriers and to persist in the face of frustration, if we help
them learn to tolerate discomfort long enough to succeed at something,
weve given them real and valuable abilities. Their
confidence and belief in themselves will be based in reality,
not merely in what people have told them. Its a confidence
that cannot easily be shaken.
This way of building a childs self-esteem
is harder on the adult and its harder on the child
in the short run. Its quicker and easier to just say nice
things. But in the long run, a sense of competence will do more
for a child than any nice things you could tell them. Actions
speak louder than words. The childs own actions and the
response they get from the world speak louder than any words,
no matter how pretty.
Lets give our children something
real: competence. And from that competence, they will
have a self-confidence that renders them immune to depression.
The gift of mastery has no equal.
Improve childrens self-esteem
helping them become more competent.