Self-esteem: A Gift, Or A Reward?

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Mother’s Day is approaching. For many mothers, this means being recognized for their ability to take care of their children. But what exactly is the proper way to take care of children, and prepare them for the world of adulthood?

There is general impression that kids these days are rewarded for everything, trophies are just handed to them. They receive praise without substance.

Except this is not necessarily bad, according to author Alfie Kohn, who wrote a recent article in the New York Times. He writes that it is best to raise a child in a way that gives them unconditional self-esteem — a feeling that supposedly will give them the ability to go on and keep trying, regardless of failure and disappointment.

He argues in his recently published book The Myth Of The Spoiled Child, that America suffers from a “commitment to conditionality” — operating under a set of rules, where every “reward” (even self-esteem) must be earned. Kohn writes that society promotes the idea that there is joy in winning, and alternatively, shame in losing, which is a necessary reality check for adult life. But according to his article, that’s not a good way to parent.

From my perspective, it seems that the hardest part of being a parent is preparing your children for inevitable disappointment.

A system of rewards based on achievements can be a good thing, driving your child to perform better in school and other arenas of their life. When I was young, no matter how many rewards my mother offered, I was too afraid of failing and being an embarrassment, to push myself. It has only been the realization that my mother will love me no matter what, that has spurned me to perform without fear of failure.

Preparing kids for life as an adult, requires helping your child build a sense of self-esteem that is strong enough to face and survive hardships and disappointments. It is ultimately up to parents to do what they think is right, in an effort to make their child strong enough to survive those painful growing moments, and become the best adults they can be.

Related Youth Radio content: Check out Scott Lau’s podcast on Tiger Parenting here!

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