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Surprising Science

Generation Self-Esteem

Obsessing over our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports on what she learned from books and then from patients. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A series of books have been published on a contemporary psychological phenomenon: A generation of young people, pumped up with self esteem by their parents, are finding life to be hollow in their adult years. Therapist Lorri Gottlieb tells of patients whose only complaint seems to be they have nothing to complain about, yet they lose sleep, feel consumed with self-doubt and are terrified of making even the smallest of errors. The cause, Gottlieb says, is modern parenting techniques that obsess over making children happy at the expense of letting them experience life and grow as individuals. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While parents have the best of intentions trying to guarantee their children are happy, it often means shielding them from the real world. Weather that implies rushing to their aid at every possible moment or rewarding them for what should be expected behavior, the dogged pursuit of happiness is not the same as experiencing happiness, say psychologists. Happiness, ideally, should result naturally from living one’s life rather than become the center around which all activities are structured. Parents should step back, says one psychologist, and realize that “children are not our masterpieces.”


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