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Friday November 9 2:03 PM ET

Study Reveals Self-Esteem Inflation Among U.S. Kids

By Suzanne Rostler

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - American kids have a bloated sense of themselves, a new study suggests.

According to the report, in a recent issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, self-esteem among America's youth in general and college students in particular has been on the rise for the past 30 years. Meantime, societal indicators that these feelings are warranted, such as higher SAT scores and lower rates of teen pregnancy, have not kept pace with attitudes.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with feeling good about oneself. People with a healthy dose of self-esteem are more satisfied with life and are less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, the authors note.

But self-esteem based on nothing can set people up for disappointment, Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University in California said in an interview with Reuters Health.``They may also feel that the world owes them something,'' she added. Twenge blames the trend on the self-esteem movement in schools, which teaches children slogans and affirmations such as ``I am lovable and capable.''

However, ``it is more important that a child actually accomplishes something than that he or she have high self-esteem,'' she said. ``Once a child accomplishes something, self-esteem will follow naturally. Children should be praised, but only when the praise has a basis in fact.''

Among younger children, declining divorce, unemployment and crime rates were found to correlate with higher self-esteem. Under these circumstances, Twenge and her colleagues suggest, children grow up feeling more connected and may feel better about themselves because their parents are able to spend more time with them and can provide a better environment.

``The culture we create has an impact on our children's feelings about themselves,'' Twenge said. ``Based on these results, it is more important to change the larger society by lowering crime rates and divorce rates than to spend energy and dollars on programs designed to increase children's self-esteem,'' she and her colleagues write.

The results are based on an analysis of hundreds of different studies on self-esteem conducted between 1965 and 1994. The studies included more than 105,000 children and young adults.

The findings also challenge the notion that girls' self-esteem suffers more than boys' self-esteem during adolescence. In junior high school, self-esteem was found to deteriorate at similar rates. A rebound was noted among both groups in high school, although boys' self-esteem was found to recover more quickly that of girls. The gap appears to narrow in college, however.

SOURCE: Personality and Social Psychology Review 2001 November.

-- Swissrose (, November 10, 2001

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