Dennis Prager

For those who don't know baseball, it does not take a "good eye" not to swing at a ball thrown over one's head. It takes a functioning eye.

One result of all this has been a generation that thinks highly of itself for no good reason. Perhaps the most famous example is the survey of American high school students and those of seven other countries. Americans came in last in mathematical ability but first in self-esteem about their mathematical ability.

But it turns out that feeling good about oneself for no good reason -- as destructive as that is -- is not the biggest problem.

The child-rearing expert, psychologist John Rosemond, recently opened my eyes to the even more troubling problem: High self-esteem in children does not produce good character, and in fact is likely to produce a less moral individual.

This flies in the face of perhaps the deepest-held conviction among the present generation, as well as the baby boomers: That it is a parent's fundamental obligation to ensure that their child has high self-esteem.

Though I always opposed undeserved self-esteem, I, too, had bought into the belief that self-esteem in children is vital.

But as soon as Rosemond said what he said, I realized he was right.

And since he said that, I have analyzed the finest adults I know well. It turns out that none had high self-esteem as a child. In fact, virtually most of them "suffered" -- as it would now be deemed -- from low self-esteem.

To cite one example, one of the finest human beings I have ever known -- an individual of extraordinary courage, integrity and selflessness -- had a father who constantly berated this person as worthless and stupid.

Now, this father was, to put it mildly, a sick man. And he did indeed have a negative psychological impact on his child -- to this day, this person has low self-esteem. But it had no negative impact on this individual's sterling character.

The more I have thought about it, the more I have put Baumeister's and Rosemond's insights together.

If Baumeister is right, and violent criminals have higher self-esteem than most people, and if Rosemond is right, and people who do not grow up with high self-esteem are more likely to be among the finest human beings, then society has the strongest interest in not promoting self-esteem among children. Society's sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem.

Now, let me be clear. No one is recommending that parents never praise a child or that parents seek to cultivate a low self-image in their child. And we assume that the child knows his parents love him/her. But, if raising good adults is the primary task of a parent -- and it surely must be -- trying to give one's child high self-esteem is not helpful, and it can easily be counterproductive.

If you don't agree with this conclusion, do the following: Ask the finest people you know how much self-esteem they had as a child. Then ask all the narcissists you know how much their parent(s) praised them.

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”

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