Does Your Teen Have Too Much Self-Esteem?
Back in the 1970s, many school districts became enamored with the idea that if you raised children’s self-esteem they would do better in school. Although this so-called “self-esteem movement” proved to be ill conceived, many people still believe the canard that high self-esteem is the root of all achievement. Since that time many researchers have studied the topic of self-esteem, and the findings have been pretty consistent: high self-esteem for the sake of personal validation, meaning self-esteem that is not based on actual personal achievement or positive behavior, is not necessarily a healthy thing.
Dr. Jean Twenge recently published the book “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitle – And More Miserable than Ever Before,” in which she documents the failures of the self-esteem movement in schools. Her research makes clear that phony self-esteem can be a very self-destructive thing. Her conclusion is that self-control is a much more accurate predictor of success than self-esteem.
A recent article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter (June 2007) also suggests that encouraging self-esteem as a primary goal is not healthy and could in fact remove any incentives to improve behavior. If you are supposed to feel good about yourself just because you exist, why study hard, work hard, treat others well, or take any actions to earn these feelings? While it is certainly beneficial to encourage young people to feel good about real accomplishments, encouraging self-esteem for its own sake is not healthy.
If you have watched the early auditions on American Idol you have surely marveled at how confident some of the worst performers are. Even when the judges look on with horror and give them three thumbs down, they declare that they are very talented and no one is going to crush their dreams. You can just imagine this person’s mother praising their tone-deaf child for fear the truth would destroy them. The consequence is that they are now learning the truth by being humiliated in front of millions of television viewers. While this is an extreme example, many teens whose self-esteem is based on nothing more than talk are in for similar disappointments as they move into adulthood.
Finding Help for Your Troubled Teen: Wilderness Therapy Programs Offer Effective Solutions
If you’re looking for ways to help your troubled teen, chances are you’ve heard about wilderness therapy programs. After all, wilderness therapy has long been recognized as one of the most effective treatments for struggling adolescents. But is it right for your teen? And how does wilderness therapy really work?
What Kinds of Teens Benefit from Wilderness Therapy? According to Dr. Robert Theisen, Executive Director of Adirondack Leadership Expeditions, teens between 13 and 17 whose unsuccessful behavior has been escalating in school, or who may be stuck in a spiral of depression, anxiety, rule violation or verbal and/or physical confrontation can all be effectively helped by wilderness therapy. Adolescents who have been living a seemingly hedonistic lifestyle – self-medicating through substance abuse or doing whatever they want, whenever they want – and teens who seem to be isolating themselves from friends and family can also be helped.
“These behaviors are symptomatic of deeper problems,” says Thiesen. “Out-of-control behaviors or who are struggling with low self-esteem, failure in school or substance abuse are often rooted in deeper emotional and/or social disruption – including social fragmentation at home or school, over-exposure to media full of violence, sexual content and ambition based on meaningless material wealth.”
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