Living with Children: The problem with self-esteem-centered parenting

A fellow psychologist says I paint with too broad a brush concerning the devastating effect mental health professional advice has had on children. He claims that some changes in parenting practice since the 1960s have been beneficial and gives more involved fathers as an example. Hold that thought.

In the 1960s, American parents turned from elders to professional “experts” — people such as yours truly — for childrearing advice. The new experts cut from whole cloth a childrearing philosophy that was 180 degrees removed from tradition. The centerpiece of the new point of view is the notion that high self-esteem is a good thing, and parents should do all in their power to ensure their children acquire it.

Mind you, the supposed merits of high self-esteem were sold on rhetoric, not evidence. People with high self-regard, says the evidence, generally possess low regard for others, are manipulative, and often become abusive when they don’t get their way.

People with high regard for others seek opportunities to serve. People with high self-esteem want to be served. It’s the simple difference between wanting to do for others and wanting others to do for you — obligation vs. entitlement.

Because of what high self-esteem has become, what I say on the subject doesn’t go over well with some folk. The most common protest: “But I want my child to be self-confident!” There is no evidence that people who are humble and modest and possess high regard for others lack the belief that they are capable of dealing with life’s challenges.

Self-esteem doesn’t pass the common sense test, either. Ponder this question: Would you rather be employed by, work alongside, be close friends with, be married to a person with high self-esteem, or a person who is humble and modest?

See what I mean? Your common sense knows the truth. (And make no mistake, high self-esteem and humility do not and cannot coexist.) The problem is that America’s childrearing common sense has been all but asphyxiated by the big wet blanket of parenting psychobabble that came out of the 1960s.

So, since belief in high self-esteem is essential to believing in the whole of what I call Postmodern Psychological Parenting, I maintain that the latter is completely devoid of value. It is a sham that has damaged children, families, schools and culture. I propose, therefore, that we begin the long haul of finding our way back home.

Back to more involved fathers. Are we talking here about the all-too-typical post-1960s dad who wants, most of all, for his kids to like him? If that’s the case, let us all praise the father who is a husband first and lets his kids know it.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at; readers may send him email at [email protected]; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.