We have often talked about the major role that self-esteem plays in our children's education. Children with high self-esteem are more ready to overcome difficult situations and are constantly prepared for success. Sometimes however, too much self-esteem...hurts.
It has been noted as a general human bias that every individual sees the world in relation to himself, invests himself with more qualities that he actually possesses and tries to build up a comfortable self-image. Dave Barry observes this phenomenon in a variety of situations:
· nine out of ten managers consider themselves better than the other managers' average
· nine out of ten teachers assess themselves as being better than their peers' average
· most of the drivers – even those who were hospitalized after an accident – consider they have better driving skills than the drivers' average.
This phenomenon occurs in a whole range of situations (as Smith and Mackie point out, 2007): thus, 70% of the students who were questionned for a study considered themselves to have better leading skills than average and 60% of the students stated the same thing about their athletic skills. But this is impossible to be true! The authors appeal to a metaphor to emphasize this issue we are currently facing; quoting the humorist Garrison Keillor, they state: „All the children are above average!”
1. for some of the subjects the feedback was positive; they were told that the ʽpartner'sʼ appreciation was ʽAn excellent essay!ʼThere are also other researches that have highlighted the importance of a high self-esteem based on overrated self (called ʽthe narcissism effectʼ). It was noted that if attacked, a person with this type of self-esteem tends to develop a much more agressive response than people with low self-esteem. Bushman and Baumeister asked the participants in their study to write an essay which would later be shown to another participant (in fact, there was no such participant and the feedback was provided by the researchers themselves):
2. the other subjects received a negative feedback: ʽThe worst essay I have ever read!ʼ
Subsequently the participants were given the chance to punish their partners, within a competitive game, by giving forth an unpleasant noise whose level they were free to establish according to their own will: conclusions showed that the participants with a high level of narcissism (even those who had received a positive feedback) proved themselves even more agressive than those with a low level of narcissism who had received a negative feedback.
One final comment: the first time you tell your child / student that he is the best, remember to do so only after an appropriate behaviour. If such a praise occurs too often and is unjustified, you risk doing more harm than good!