My area of the country has an FM music station that advertises itself as “family-friendly.” It plays nothing but the latest Christian rock songs and although it has no commercials, it intersperses the music with vaguely Christianoid happy talk. Apparently it is sponsored by a consortium of Evangelical churches. The rest of my family enjoys it to a certain extent, so I have no choice but to listen from time to time.
One day, I heard one of their station breaks say approximately the following:
Children love it when their parents tell them how great they are! Call us and record an affirmation of your child that we can broadcast, and don’t forget to build up your child today by telling him how great he is!
Certainly it is good to commend your child for a job well done. And parents should generally be positive toward their children. But there is no mention here of waiting for the child to do something praiseworthy. Just tell them they’re great, out of the blue.
Typical postmodern drivel, but it caused me to consider why self-esteem has caught on as one of the important concepts of our age. I think one reason is that modern life is officially nihilistic—albeit nihilism with a happy face painted on it—and naturally children respond with despair, at least when they grow old enough to notice the nihilism.
If you’re a regular reader of the Orthosphere you don’t need to have the nihilism part explained. You know that the spirit of the times demands unlimited tolerance, nonjudgmentalism and openness, but if everything is equally valuable, then everything is also equally worthless. Many people attempt to cover the despair with mindless activity and selfishness, but the effort ultimately fails. We live in an officially nihilistic world, and children, being spiritually sensitive, understand.
That being so, many people evidently think the best way to cheer up the youngsters is not to teach them what they really need, the meaning to life, but to pump them up artificially with self-esteem talk. Instead of teaching the young that the God of the Bible exists and that they have a place in His kingdom, we are supposed to manufacture meaning and purpose by bare acts of the will, including telling one another how wonderful we are.
Another reason for children despairing is the epidemic of child abuse in the form of broken homes. Outright cruelty to children is bad enough, but our age actually encourages the cruelties of divorce and the neglect of children by permitting married people to divorce for no reason and by encouraging women to abandon their duties to their spouses and their children by telling them that they need to actualize their potential by pursuing out-of-the-home careers.
Aside from the fact that meaningless affirmations only increase the despair by convincing the child that the adult world is feeding him a line, these affirmations confirm some of a child’s worst tendencies. Children, like mankind generally, are naturally lazy. They have a natural desire to obtain unearned value, including the unearned value of being told that they are great just because they are breathing. Let’s not pander to their base instincts.
Children need a mother and father who are married to each other and who live in the same house as the children. Children need to learn to become competent in the basic skills that will allow them to lead a productive life. They need to be instructed in the truths of Christianity and in proper morality. They need to learn about the history of their people, and to learn that their nation is good, not because it always does good, but because it is theirs. They need parents to correct them, firmly but lovingly, when they go wrong. They do not need constantly to be told how great they are.