Youth Services Law

Showing 2 posts from January 2015.

Encouraging Self-Esteem Can Be Toxic

OOvercoming Difficultyne of the cardinal rules of working in a school, day care center, camp, or mentoring organization is that you must not harm a child's self-esteem.  This rule is so woven into our culture that it persists in spite of a growing body of research that our ways of catering to a child's self-esteem can cause significant psychological harm.

Several years ago, The Atlantic ran an excellent article entitled, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy."  The author, Lori Gottlieb, quoted several psychologists and studies about the damage done by inflating children's self-esteem:

 “People who feel like they’re unusually special end up alienating those around them,” [Jean] Twenge [psychology professor at San Diego State University] says. “They don’t know how to work on teams as well or deal with limits. They get into the workplace and expect to be stimulated all the time, because their worlds were so structured with activities. They don’t like being told by a boss that their work might need improvement, and they feel insecure if they don’t get a constant stream of praise. They grew up in a culture where everyone gets a trophy just for participating, which is ludicrous and makes no sense when you apply it to actual sports games or work performance. Who would watch an NBA game with no winners or losers? Should everyone get paid the same amount, or get promoted, when some people have superior performance? They grew up in a bubble, so they get out into the real world and they start to feel lost and helpless. Kids who always have problems solved for them believe that they don’t know how to solve problems.

A more recent article in Scientific American, "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids," agrees, based on research from a different perspective.  The author, Carol Dweck, a chaired psychology professor at Stanford, reviewed several decades of research suggesting "that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings."   In other words, telling children that they are intelligent or special or gifted leaves them feeling that if they cannot solve a problem quickly, then they cannot find a solution.

But, of course, we want to encourage children.  According to Dr. Dweck, the key is how to praise them.  Rather than praising them for innate characteristics or simply existing, we need to praise them for continued effort and solving problems.  Constantly telling children that they are intelligent leaves them believing that, if they cannot solve a problem on the first try, they never will be able to do so.  By contrast, praising them for solving a problem by working hard encourages resilience and learning.  As Dr. Dweck phrased it, "Praise for the specific process a child used to accomplish something fosters motivation and confidence by focusing children on the actions that lead to success."

Music Training Aids Learning

Young Girl Would Rather Play On Digital Tablet Than Practise VioHow children learn is a perennial topic of mental health research, and two recent studies are very intriguing.

Music Training Aids Coordination and Impulse Regulation:

 A team from the University of Vermont studied 232 children, using MRI and behavioral testing.  The researchers looked at changes in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain, which generally thickens as children mature.  The study found that "[p]laying a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within areas implicated in motor planning and coordination, visuospatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation."  In other words, as Science Daily summarized the study, "a violin might help a child battle psychological disorders even better than a bottle of pills."

Music Training Aids Classroom Focus:

Science Daily also reported a research presentation last summer at the American Psychological Association, indicating that musical training has neurological benefits that help children focus better in the classroom.  The researcher, Dr. Nina Kraus, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, also found that the benefits continue even after the music lessons stop.  College students who had more than five years of music training in elementary school or high school  performed significantly better than their peers on the research testing.

Ironically,  music training often is one of the first casualties of tight school budgets.  These studies, however, indicate that perhaps music classes would help improve test scores more than increased homework or other academic interventions.

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