A quote from Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. When I heard it, I thought to myself, I've never heard a truer statement. Parents today could do well to incorporate a little more Iron Lady and a little less Oprah in their child rearing practices.
I think of the "self-esteem movement," where an army of well-meaning educators, mental health professionals and authors convinced parents that in order for your kid to function happily in the world, you needed to make them feel good about themselves, even if it was absent any measureable accomplishment. As a result we were quick to pronounce every fingerpainting a Picasso, we stopped keeping score at soccer games and gave trophies to kids just for showing up. We told ourselves and our children they were marvelous, just because they breathed. We shielded them from criticism and praised them for the most meager of accomplishments.
20 plus years later, here's the science -- it didn't help grades, or career achievements or relationships. Instead it produced a generation or two that feels entitled to reward without putting in real work. With some exceptions, we produced a generation without grit. When people who have been overpraised through life hit a real challenge, they panic or quit. They can't manage frustration and they don't know how to handle challenging situations constructively. Other outcomes of the self esteem movement were that it produced people who were either scared to death of taking action, or didn't think they should have to bother.
Real self esteem comes from real achievement. It can't be bestowed on someone through empty praise. It's not enough just to participate, you need to excel in something. You need to try, fail, try again, fail again and repeat and improve until you have mastered a skill or a task. It isn't about self esteem, it's about self mastery.
We worried too much about how our children felt, and not what they could do. In the old days parents would be driving their kid home from little league saying, "when you struck out, you didn't keep your eye on the ball". Now they say "The ump robbed you."
Oprah talked a lot about people's feelings. The Iron Lady? Not so much. Here's another quote. This said in response to a doctor suggesting to an elderly Mrs. Thatcher that, given her circumstances, she is bound to be feeling miserably:
"What? What am I 'bound to be feeling?' People don't think anymore. They feel. 'How are you feeling? No, I don't feel comfortable. I'm sorry, we as a group we're feeling... ' One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I'm thinking."