"You're so smart!" "You're so kind!" "You're so handsome!" "You're so funny!" "You're so strong!" "You're such a good brother!"
We can't give our children high self-esteem. After promoting self-esteem for two decades, we are seeing more depression and anxiety in young people, not higher levels of self-confidence. It turns out that telling kids they are great all the time doesn't help them that much; instead, it makes them suspicious of adults because they can see that they're not as good at doing some things as other kids are...Okay, so now we're realizing that "instilling self-esteem" doesn't do that much good. Maybe, if done too much, even some damage? Kids aren't dumb. They know they're not the best at everything...
But there's got to be a balance, because most kids excel in SOMEthing. How do I want my kids to view themselves? What does a healthy view of self look like?
Here's an excerpt from a post I wrote back in November:
My pastor gave a sermon a few months back and he made a point I don’t think I’ll ever forget. He quoted Ray Ortlund as saying “We need a sense of sin. We shouldn’t fear it or resent it. It’s not destructive; it’s actually life-giving.” And then he said, “We don’t need more self-esteem. We need more self-awareness and humility and more Christ-esteem.”
Wow! A sense of sin is life-giving! The more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe it to be absolutely true. If I don’t think I’m a sinner, then why would I need a Savior? If I don’t gently show my boys their sin, but instead try to give them a false sense of sufficiency in themselves (much of what I think our culture tries to do in the name of “good self-esteem”), I do them a major disservice. I can give them a gift. I can lovingly show them their shortcomings and point them to find their esteem in the only one who can truly give it: Christ. They will fail themselves, but HE will never fail.
I am not saying that I'm going to beat my boys over the head every time they do something wrong and say, “See? You need Jesus!” And I AM going to encourage them. My point is, I’d much rather be the one to help them see the reality of who they are than the world. Hopefully, through the lens of Scripture, I can do it more lovingly than their peers and more truthfully than the world's "wisdom."
And what the Bible has to say looks a little different than what the world's been telling us for years. Instead of teaching us to boast in our abilities, it says we are to embrace our weakness... to boast in it. Say what?!? So that the power of Christ can rest upon me. When I am weak then I am strong. Boast in the Cross. Because that's where true strength comes from. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
So, what should I believe about myself? What should I help my children to understand about themselves?
My heart (their hearts) are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9)
I (they) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)
There is not a righteous person (that includes me and my kiddos) on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Ecc. 7:20)
I (they) are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)
I (they) are made in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27)
God so loved the world (including me and my boys) that he gave his one and only Son (Jn. 3:16)
Christ died for my (their) sins. (1 Cor. 15:3)
I (they) can do all things through Christ who gives them strength (Phil. 4:13)
I don't know about you, but I'm not that awesome. I fail pretty frequently (i.e. daily, hourly... even more). I'd much rather have Christ-esteem than self-esteem. And I'd much rather "instill" that in my boys. I pray that my kids grow to be happy, confident children. But I pray that this stems from them putting their hope in the true Source of happiness and confidence and not in themselves.
So like any parent that loves their child, I will encourage my kids and help them discover the gifts they've been given. I will take note of and applaud the things they do well. But my goal is not to give them confidence in their abilities. My goal is to help them see from Whom those strengths come and to help them boast in their weaknesses for the glory of God.
There's not a lot of room for "esteeming self" in that equation.
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