I can’t remember where I first read it, but it was something along these lines: that Mr. Rogers and his liberal habit of telling kids they were special—for no reason—is to blame for a generation of entitled adults who never lived up to the praise they received scot-free as children.

Now, I’m not about to blame Mr. Rogers or his sweater for anything, but something in me (perhaps that cold, blackened part?) was glad to hear someone else bristle at that voice adults often use when they’re speaking to children.

It’s like that study I always seem to hear about where two sets of kids were given a puzzle and upon completion, Group A was praised for being so smart and Group B was praised for working hard. When given a more difficult puzzle, the group that had been labeled smart gave up, whereas Group B worked until they completed the task.

I often wonder how the things I say to my daughter will affect the way she sees herself. I hope my contributions are the kind that help her grow up and be a teenager and then an adult who loves herself—who is confident enough to know when to keep going and when to stop. In other words, I want her to have a good self-esteem.

But what is that? More pointedly, what kind of a goal is that? Teach her to love herself?  If I’m honest about it, my belief system doesn’t focus on the importance of loving yourself. The way I read them, scriptural directives about love are always pointed outwards. Love others. Love God.

Which I’m finally realizing is the answer if I really do want her to respect herself. Thinking back, the times in my life when I have been happiest with who I am are those times when I experienced more clarity about my relationship with God.  Understanding that relationship—sometimes a difficult and seemingly unnatural thing to do—has been the source of real self-esteem for me. The other day, a friend pointed out that when he was younger and went through sustained periods of self-doubt, his emergence at the other end was nothing he conjured. It had decidedly come from outside of him–and not from other people’s compliments either.

I agreed with him. At least in my experience, self-esteem is a misnomer.  Does it sound like I’m putting myself down by saying I’m convinced it comes from somewhere far more noble than my very own right here? And have I crossed the line by saying that not even Fred Rogers could produce it?

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