For years (as a teacher and a teacher trainer) I have pondered on the idea of self esteem and read a variety of books and documents on the subject. The researchers seem to be unable to reach full agreement over many of the finer points (mostly chicken and egg type arguments) but debates tend to consider that low self-esteem could be a contributing factor in:
• crime and violence
• low academic achievement and engagement
• teenage parenthood
• alcohol and drug misuse
• depression and suicide
• poor interpersonal relationships
It makes sense to me. If you do have poor self-worth and no pride in who you are and what you can do, life is probably going to be a bit of a struggle. You're likely to:
• feel overly challenged at the drop of a hat (because of a real fear of failure and you assume you are always going to fail) and therefore unlikely to attempt much
• often become defensive (because of a need to protect yourself from perceived threats) and/or
• be unwilling to branch out from the small sphere (and behavioural patterns) in which you feel safe and secure.
If you don't believe you are capable or can achieve anything because that is the message you have received all your life, you're going to look for 'false' ways to boost your ego - thus some of the list of negative outcomes above.
There was also, of course, the self esteem backlash: people saying that high self-esteem equated to arrogance, cockiness, narcissism and disrespect. Well to that I say, falsely inflated egos and those that regularly hold contempt for others (because they have a need to feel better than others - because in reality, they feel inferior) is not the result of true self-pride. Self esteem is based on genuine achievements and competences and means a person has no need to feel superior to others.
My conclusion: we need to let kids achieve. With the current narrow idea of what 'success' is in school (heavily academic), many kids leave school with a sense that they weren't very good at much or that they are certainly not as 'good' as those that achieved academically. They 'fail' school and this impacts massively on their self-worth. I am not saying get rid of academia, but introduce a wider range of ways of succeeding.