Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Healing Power of Nature

It's so easy to be busy these days - with kids, with work, with just about anything. How often do we take time to slow down and stop? Really stop and connect with the healing power of nature. Today I had the pleasure of spending the entire day up in Soltice Canyon, just a 45 minute drive on the outskirts of the city. Being with friends, family, and children in the spectacular gorgeous greenery was postively healing. Seeing big, beautiful blue jays on arrival, listening to the woodpeckers peck at the trees, hearing the frogs sing by the stream, and just lazing my eyes and body on such natural beauty was a delicious joy.

So here's my healing advice for the week. Pick a day on the weekend. Give yourself and your kids the day off. Take a vacation in your local park or nearby mountains. Spend the day outdoors in nature and for sure you and your kids will feel better. Forget the taxes, the bills, the homework. And then do it again - take another trip to nature - next week, next month, but very soon. It's absolutely worth it!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

From the President, International Council for Self-Esteem

I enjoyed your writeup of the Twenge article and appreciated your position and defense of the California Task Force. I was anticipating a press release of her findings which were reported earlier in Kernis's book Self-Esteem: Issues and Answers. In her book she points out that other factors such as permissive parenting, increased materialism, the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows, and the culture in general all seem to contribute to this trend. So there is no evidence that self-esteem programs are the primary cause of this trend. She hypothesizes that only some of the blame for the increase in narcissistic scores may be due to self-esteem programs that emphasize the self-worth aspects of self-esteem. However, I believe the study is valid and significant, but it is only a small part of the problem.

Unfortunately, here is another example of researchers and college professors taking different approaches to the topic of self-esteem. It is evident that she takes the same position as Baumeister and Crocker and equates self-esteem with self-worth with her use of the Rosenberg Scale. This is in contrast to those sociologists who study self-esteem from a behavioral perspective (James, Harter, Pope), and those who believe that authentic self-esteem is a balance between worth and competence (Branden, Mruk). As you might suspect, I subscribe to this later position on self-esteem for those that base their work on self worth disregard actions and demonstrated behavior which I feel are important. I believe there are dangers in over-emphasizing self-worth and Mruk in his book Self-Esteem Theory, Research and Practice does a great job of explaining how self-worth and competence balance each other and keep each of these elements from being developed to an extreme as in the case of narcissism.

It is too bad when we have to keep educating others about these problems of definition, especially when it seems that the majority of college professors continue to use Rosenberg's scale only for their research. Thanks for your efforts.

Robert Reasoner

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Self-Esteem: A College Student's Perspective

Can you really measure a person's self-esteem through a questionnaire? In my experience those who self promote usually have larger inadequacies than those who don't. My assumption is that they are making up for the issues. They are constantly bringing it up because it is something they deal with, and they are making comments that reverse their feelings to hopefully send the facade that they are what they say they are.

As far as whether or not self-esteem is good or bad, it's just like any quality (or thing in general); there must be a balance. Too much of anything is bad.

Even if you care for the wellbeing of others, if you care to the point where other's health/problems/etc. matter more than your own, than you are not living a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, if all you care about is yourself, well then, obviously you lack moral values that the majority of society believes are valuable and unique to the human species.

Same is true for self-esteem. You can only tell if reports of self-esteem are negative if there are corresponding reports on negative behavior. I might buy the argument that trends in increased self-esteem lead to worsened personal relationships if there were questions/tests that offered those kinds of statistics as well. Even then with vague statistics riddled with confounding factors it would be hard to prove causation.

University of Berkeley

Monday, March 5, 2007

Self-Esteem: Good or Bad For Kids?

There have been so many confusing and conflicting reports on whether self-esteem has been bad or good for kids this week that I'm exhausted trying to keep up. Stories have been all over the news, the Internet and TV. If you google the subject you'll be reading for weeks. And here are some more thoughts...

It all started (again) with a research study, the lead investigator being Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, giving over 16,000 college students a narcissistic questionnaire (the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, NPI) back in 1982 through 2006. The results of the study were made public pending the release of her book in paperback. Its merits are still being considered for a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

If you haven't already read any of the articles around, then here are some of the basics.

1. NPI scores have risen since 1982. By 2006 two-thirds of the students had above average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.

2. College students answered questions such as "I think I am a special person," "I can live any way I want," and "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.

3. The researchers say these kids are "narcissistic" but not "clinically narcissistic" so they don't all have to seek counseling.

4. Students' more positive responses on the NPI are equated with higher self-esteem, a tricky assumption to make because it depends on your definitions. Wouldn't a more comprehensive definition of self-esteem include feeling good about yourself because you know the value of responsibility, hard work, character, and the common good? In fact, the California Task Force on Self-Esteem in the mid 1980's created a document outlining just these characteristics (the opposite of what Twenge would call narcissism) as being part of what self-esteem means.

5. The study's results support the idea that higher self-esteem leads to "negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others, reacting aggressively to criticism, and favoring self-promotion over helping others." And that it leads to more crime, higher teen pregnancy, more drug use (see Twenge's earlier findings).

6. The researchers conclude that problem stems from the beginning self-esteem movement in the 1980's and telling our kids they are special. (See my comments in #4 above re what the movement really said.)

These last two assumptions are hard to swallow. Twenge quotes different research to support the study's conclusions. Other researchers quote opposing stats. For example, an article by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss on the Op Ed page of the LA Times March 2nd point out just the opposite trend. "Millennials have much greater regards for each other, their parents and the community than other Gen X's or baby boomers had at the same phase of life." Howe and Strauss go on to quote statistics that support their viewpoint and directly oppose Twenge et. al's saying crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse all have actually lower not higher rates today for those under age 25 and volunteerism has gone up. (Twenge dismisses the higher help rates by saying kids are just doing it to look good on a college resume.)

I wonder if we go along with Twenge's suggestion and stop telling kids they are special, is that really the answer to many of society's problems? I don't believe such a flip response is the answer. There are so many layers to this issue.

For our youngest kids, parents’ thoughtful praise is critical - their view of themselves comes from their parents, because parents are their world. They haven't developed the skills or experience to nurture or appraise themselves. And too many kids just hear what they are doing wrong, not right. We want our kids to develop an inner sense of self, and perhaps always hearing they are "great" from outside sources doesn't ultimately do what we'd like it to. That is, to develop an inner sense of worth so kids can comfort themselves when they need to, realistically appraise what their talents really are - where they have to work harder, where they can help others, and what they want their place in the world to be and work toward that goal.

It seems wise to praise for trying to do their best, not just achieving the highest honor. CBS News reported on Dr. Carol Dweck's research at Stanford University, which supports praising effort. "Dweck conducted experiments on fifth graders. After a test she praised one group for being smart" and "another group for the effort they put in." In a later "much harder exam, the kids who were led to believe they were smart folded. But the ones who were praised for trying performed much better." Research about "learned hopelessness" also shows if you don't think you can achieve something, eventually you won't even try.

All this fuel for the fire presents an opportunity to evaluate the study's broad implications for our children, the effect of throwing the "baby out with the bathwater", and how we think / feel about this subject overall. What is important to you? What values do you want children to develop? How are you helping them become the person you believe and hope they can become?

Why not make your own determination about the good and bad of self-esteem when you consider the children in your life? How are they feeling about themselves, and how are those feelings affecting the lives they are leading? Are they saying they are feeling good, but teasing or putting other kids down at school? Or are they reaching out and standing up for the kid who is being teased? Have they developed enough empathy and self-responsibility to understand that what they say and do affects others, and act positively on those traits? And if you don't appreciate what you see in their behavior, then teach them what matters - your value system. And remember kids learn best by example, so be true to what you believe in.

Please share your thoughts and feelings on this latest Hot Topic.