Do Children Need a High Self-Esteem?
- Friday, August 29, 2008
The Right Kind of Fear Brings Confidence
In what do Americans typically believe children find refuge and security: a healthy self-image, self-worth, self-confidence, high self-esteem, accomplishments, or innate talents? The list is literally endless. In our individualistic and self-focused culture, children are continually bombarded with the message that they hold great significance in the universe, and must therefore believe in their significance so that they may reach their ultimate potential as human beings. Even the popular Christian animated series featuring very cute and alluring vegetables consistently sends out the message to children, "You are special". While children are certainly special to parents and family, and should be treated as such, parents are wise to recognize the dangers of the cultural "You are Special" message, and its potential to foster a deep sense of self-centeredness, even narcissism. With such a realization, parents also need biblical alternatives that will ultimately point their little ones to God as the center of all things.
The "You Are Special" Message Aims at the Wrong Affections of Children
The bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, William Willimon once commented, "Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would have never had if I had not met Jesus. He reorders them". The core value of "You are special" does not emanate from the believers' reordered needs, but from the needs of "self-significance" that once ruled the former "self' (Genesis 3:4-6; Ephesians 4:22). It resonates profoundly with the message of such esteemed humanists as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow who teach that mankind must develop a more positive attitude towards himself (Rogers, 1989), and contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ who encouraged followers to make themselves less significant if they want to follow him (Luke 9:23).
Additionally, it sets the stage for a child to develop a very strong attitude of entitlement. A child quickly learns, "If I am special, then life must revolve around me, and I deserve to be treated specially." Not to mention it lays the foundation for the "self-esteem cycle" in which life becomes a journey where a person must continually strive for his or her sense of being "special", hence maintaining a healthy and high "self-esteem".
Christian's have attempted to squelch the humanistic bent of this worldview by saying such things as, "Since God died for you, you are special", but in so doing they remove the glory of redemption from God's merciful and graceful character and place it upon the significance of the one receiving such mercy and grace (i.e., self). Therefore, "Jesus died for me because I'm special" usurps the gospel message of "Jesus died for me, the undeserving, because he is an infinitely merciful and amazing God". The former diminishes a person's sense of desperation for their greatest need, God's grace, while the latter recognizes this desperation, and therefore fosters a deeper sense of gratitude for God's incomprehensible goodness. So what are parents to do?
Replace the message of "You Are Special" with "You are Blessed"
Parents should ask themselves, "Does telling my children they are special sound more like the teachings of the Bible or the messages of the media?" If they are honest, the answer clearly points to the media. Marketing experts have capitalized on this reality. Commercials, movies, and music all emphasize the theme "I am special, therefore I deserve"; "I deserve happiness", "I deserve luxury", "I deserve good", "I deserve (fill in the blank)". As a result, millionaires have been made. Why is this method such a powerful marketing tool? Very simply, it engages the universal tendency of all humanity to place self as center of the cosmos. It hinders the God-centered life, and promotes a deadly self-centered existence.
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