January 2, 2008

The Kids Are Feel Alright

Justin Katz

I lack the interest to investigate every claim that Chairman and CEO of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) makes about teenagers, and some of them are indubitably positive, but this sort of thing is of dubious value:

A survey of more than 2,700 middle and high school students revealed that most young people have a positive sense of self: feeling good about their progress on the key developmental tasks of establishing an identity, achieving independence, and building meaningful relationships with peers.

Despite commonly held beliefs that adolescence is defined by anxiety, upheaval, and acting out — or "storm and stress," a phrase coined by G. Stanley Hall, the first president of the American Psychological Association — there is significant evidence from SADD that the majority of teens feel happy almost every day and perceive themselves as friendly (77 percent), honest (72 percent), and smart (72 percent). Similarly, more than six in ten say they can handle change well and are liked by others.

Is it necessarily to their own good, or society's, that kids think they're just swell? A healthy dose of sturm und drang can spur young men and women toward improvement and achievement. (Curious that Wallace should give credit for "coining" a translation to an APA president.) Let's see how these youngsters do in the future — what they achieve or what the wreak. Many, I've little doubt (and considerable experience), will hit a splenetic wall when the world doesn't duly reward them for being so well groomed.

How they react to that personal cataclysm will be the test.

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This reminds me of some studies by social psychologists from a few years ago. Subjects (who I think were students) were asked to perform various tasks, and then rate themselves on how well they did. Not only did people overrate their competence but- and this is the best part- the worse they did, the more likely they were to do so.

Posted by: Chalkdust at January 2, 2008 11:50 PM

I personally don't see what's wrong with kids feeling good about themselves. If they have a healthy sense of self-esteem, they don't feel obligated to follow the crowd and make stupid decisions like getting drunk and driving, or dressing like young harlots (see item above).
I didn't make the mistakes the "cool" kids made, and I turned out okay as an adult. The same can be said for many others in my shoes.

Posted by: rhody at January 3, 2008 12:32 AM


I always thought of what you're talking about as "character", not "self-esteem", and that "character" requires that you don't always feel so great about yourself, when you do something wrong, for instance.

Self-esteem seems to have become the idea that everyone is, and should regard themselves as a great person, no matter what they do. I blame Barney.

Posted by: chalkdust at January 3, 2008 1:29 AM

Character, self-esteem...we can argue the semantics forever.
But you do have to feel pretty good about yourself and have the self-confidence not to follow the crowd when the crowd's headed for trouble.

Posted by: rhody at January 3, 2008 11:00 AM

I think the point here, rhody, is that feeling good about yourself despite having accomplished nothing does nothing for you. Feeling bad about your failures is an important life motivator.

Public schools and lazy parents have doomed this entire generation. I'm already seeing it as they move into the workplace and think they are the end-all, be-all greatest people ever to walk the Earth despite not having the sense to come in out of the rain.

Posted by: Greg at January 3, 2008 11:20 AM

Kids get into the bad habits because they see them as the only things that make them feel good. It explains the whole gangsta phenomenon.
Positive self-esteem also helps kids stand up to the bullies, too. I don't think we want a society where bullies rule...or do we?

Posted by: rhody at January 3, 2008 12:37 PM

"I blame Barney"

From what I've heard of that show, it is on the long list of things which parents do that earns them a million points towards heaven (... or, if preferred, towards satvik karma).

Posted by: Monique at January 3, 2008 3:47 PM
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