Generation Self-Esteem

The Wall Street Journal continues its campaign against Generation Y with an article by Jeff Zaslow that tries to explain why so many young people act with such a sense of entitlement. It pins the blame on, among other things, California, indulgent parenting, and consumer culture. But I suspect that the culprit is the last one listed: the self-esteem movement.

The self-esteem movement. In 1986, California created a state task force on self-esteem. Schools nationwide later adopted “everybody’s a winner” philosophies. One teacher told me that her superiors advised her to tell students that she liked their smiles, or the way they sat up straight, rather than focusing on, say, their failed spelling tests.

Yes, it’s important for kids to like themselves. But many readers long for some balance. One California woman wrote that her grandchildren are being raised on “self-esteem babble.” This year, her grandson wanted to play trumpet in the school talent show, but hardly practiced. Every note he played was wrong, yet he thought he was “awesome.”

For what it’s worth, I have noticed that some younger students absolutely cannot take criticism of their work (not Berkeley students, of course!). They look at you like you’re crazy when a critique is given, and at some level, you can sense that they are so shocked by criticism that they simply don’t listen. I’m worried about them, because when their mediocrity is displayed before a judge, they are going to be yelled at. I, at least, give them constructive criticism, in a private environment that’s tempered with some praise…

Zaslow reports that some institutions are trying to deal with this:

Some colleges are also combating young people’s sense of entitlement. At Loyola University Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, Mary Burns teaches a course modeled after her book “Entitled to What? A Reality Check for the Generation Entering Corporate America.”

A reality check is needed. If society at large accepts this mediocrity, it could corrupt our culture.