SOURCE: Vision Media Productions

January 29, 2008 03:00 ET

The Self-Esteem Debate

New Ideas About Success, Failure and Self-Esteem Have Not Stemmed the Rising Tide of Depression and Unhappiness

PASADENA, CA--(Marketwire - January 29, 2008) - Almost 10 percent of American adults suffer from depression and, according to statistics from a Harvard University study reported in "Harvard Mental Health Newsletter," the number of children under 18 who are depressed rises by 23 percent every year, and pre-schoolers are the fastest growing market for anti-depressants. It would appear that the current vogue for concentrating on 'feeling good' rather than doing well is not producing healthy kids with a strong sense of personal value. Vision.org, a web site focusing on personal development among many other social issues, has just tackled this issue head on in a recent article in the series on personal development and self-esteem.

A child's self-esteem has always been important; education has been addressing it from at least as far back as 1890. But while it has been agreed that a child must have positive morale and must feel worthy, over the last 30 years a concentration on simply "feeling good" has become predominant as parents and educators have seemingly dismissed what was obviously causing that "good feeling" in the first place.

Children's self-esteem problems have been addressed in some peculiar ways of late. As Vision points out, "In the summer of 2005 Liz Beattie, a retired British school teacher, proposed to her union that the word failure should be banned from classrooms and replaced with the more palatable phrase deferred success so as not to discourage students from continuing efforts to achieve." At about the same time in the United States, various bans on red ink gained momentum as teachers assumed that the color was causing undue stress in children.

It is very obvious that a fight for morale is being waged. But will morale really be restored with empty words and gestures? It would seem not. Current methods do not appear to be working, as incidences of depression in children are more prevalent than ever. It could be that something basic has been overlooked. Harvard psychologist Henry James posed the following, as far back as the last decade of the 19th century: "Our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities." In an attempt to quantify this concept, he interpreted this ratio as a literal fraction.

Much more recently, in 1995, psychologist Martin Seligman noted, "Armies of American teachers, along with American parents, are straining to bolster children's self-esteem." He then went on to say, "By emphasizing how a child feels, at the expense of what the child does -- mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration and boredom, and meeting challenges -- parents and teachers are making this generation of children more vulnerable to depression."

It would appear that there is no avoiding failure -- and then overcoming it -- on the way to the achievement of success. A child knows when he or she has actually succeeded, and false praise in an effort to make a child "feel better" can make a child mistrust even honest praise.

You can read the entire text of the article here.

Vision.org is a Web site that challenges readers to examine the historical and philosophical origins of today's issues. Vision.org brings insight into the complex social, moral and philosophical questions -- including those of personal development and self-esteem -- that confront society and culture by examining them through the moral values and wisdom of an ancient source, the Bible.

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