None of us want our kids to grow up with a low self-esteem. Having a healthy view of self is important for living a good life, and we need to emphasize this with our kids.
But have we gone too far?
Some of the statistics are alarming: “In 2013, Time magazine reported that ‘the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s 65 or older, according to the
National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on the narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982.'”
Yikes! With all the focus on self-esteem and self-help, it appears we are going too far and producing more self-centered narcissists.
As parents, how do we strike the balance? How do we produce a healthy self-esteem and identity, without puffing our kids up into self-centered narcissism?
The Bible gives us the answers by offering us two sides of the proverbial coin. We need to communicate both sides to our children, and I want to give two examples.
First, in Genesis 1 and 2, we see that we are made in the image of God. This means all humans have value and should be treated with dignity and respect. As we show that respect to our kids, they will learn to have self-respect. But on the flip side of the coin, we see in Genesis 3 that we are sinners under a curse. Without being harsh or demeaning, we need to help our kids see this truth. When our kids sin, we need to gently point out the sin, so that they can see they are not perfect. This will help them take responsibility for their actions in the future, rather than falling into self-centered blame-shifting.
REMEMBER THIS: As with most parts of parenting, it’s even better to demonstrate these truths ourselves. When your kids see YOU treating yourself with respect AND owning up to your sins and mistakes, they will learn the healthy balance.
Second, we need to communicate a balance of how unique our kids are, without puffing them up with pride or burdening them with overwhelming expectations. Psalm 139 communicates that we are uniquely and wonderfully formed in our mother’s womb. What a powerful truth! Every single one of us is unique, down to our fingerprint. God has wired all 8 billion of us in a special way. Our kids need to hear affirmation of their unique wiring, abilities, purpose, and journey.
But at the same time, that doesn’t mean each of us will be a superstar or president or astronaut. When we read Bible stories, we can’t push our kids to “be like King David.” There were thousands of other ordinary people in the Old Testament; we can’t all be kings or leaders. I’m so tired of hearing professional athletes saying, “Believe in yourself, work hard, and you can do anything.” I’m always thinking, “That’s easy for you to say when you’re 6’10! No matter how much I believe or how many hours I spend in the gym, the NBA isn’t in my future.”
This cultural mantra only works out for the very best. Our kids need to know that they are unique, but at the same time, they are one of 8 billion people. There is nothing wrong with them working hard, getting a rather ordinary job, and showing Christ-like love to serve those in their natural spheres. It’s a lot of pressure to feel you must be extraordinary, and statistically, most kids won’t be. If they find Christ and shine Christ in the ordinary, then they can find what one Puritan author called “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.”
Self-respect and sinful. Unique and ordinary. Balancing these truths will hopefully lead our kids toward a healthy self-esteem rather than a self-centered narcissism.