Thursday, June 5, 2014

Esteem: entitled or earned?

A recent letter to the editor (Wall Street Journal 5/24-25) commented on the strange and rude spate of colleges disinviting commencement speakers.

The author's point was that today's college grads were raised with the all important goal of building self-esteem. As a teacher, I was officially part of the "movement." But as a mother, I didn't praised my children for sloppy work. I didn't reward any and every effort regardless of its quality. My students got more of the mom than the esteem builder.

The author contended that we should not be surprised when young adults who have been constantly affirmed for everything they do and say don't think they should listen to anyone who disagrees with them.  

The letter put me in mind of a recent incident with one of my grandchildren that suggests she thinks everything she does is worth getting excited about.

She's 5, and she observed an interaction between her old brother and me. He was trying to "sell" his first book to me. It was about Legos, and each page (chapter) addressed a different type of Legos, with specific details. Usually $29.99, he said, he was giving me a deal for only $1.99. 

Addie watched me pay Keeler, and her little wheels started turning. She found construction paper, tape, and the only marker the dog hadn't chewed up. 

A few minutes later she brought me her book. It was two folded pieces of construction paper, taped together. The "front cover" was a circular squiggle with four lines ticking out  of it.

"What is it?" I asked. 

"That's you, Grandma."

She was excited, and I really didn't know what to say.

Maybe it was the teacher talking, rather than the doting granny. Carefully, and kindly I said "Addie, I don't think this is your best work."

She burst into tears. Oh dear. Was I being too critical? Had she never had anyone dispute the quality of her work?  

Her mom soothed her, and over her head told me that maybe she'd been trying to  make a fast buck, but that she really wasn't much of an artist. But somehow Addie thought it was good work.  

I was sorry I'd hurt her feelings, but at the same time, I hadn't cheered when her mother produced hurried work. Should I have let her think that it was good just because I love her?

Thankfully her mom took away the sting by suggesting Addie create another project that she knew would have an outcome pleasing to us both, and one she could justifiably be proud of. 

That's a life lesson which will foster esteem.

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