Head teachers and teachers report that on a daily basis they have parents coming up to the school because, for example -
- Their child has failed a test. ('I don't think you should be giving them tests as it is bad for their self-esteem if they don't do well', parents will say.)
- Their child is disappointed or sad because they didn't get chosen for something (such as a part in the pantomime).
- Their child has fallen out with friends. (Parents often interpret this as bullying and see this as something the school must rectify.)
Teachers, who are often parents themselves, understand this parental anxiety and why they don't want their child to experience any bad feelings or feel sad. This desire to avoid bad feelings is very much part of the modern world. However, as professionals working with young people, they are aware that it simply is not good to try and protect them in this way and that they are being undermined by it.
The Centre's research into what happened in the USA with deliberate attempts to encourage young people to feel good about themselves (self-esteem building) means we are concerned that parents' desire to protect their children from bad feelings or sadness will not just lead to over-protection but will also:
- Lead to low expectations of young people's capabilities.
- Undermine learning - children need to be encouraged to persist when they feel frustrated by learning something difficult.
- Cut young people off from valuable sources of information on how they can improve - constructive, critical feedback can accelerate learning and the acquisition of skills.
- Seriously undermine academic standards and skills (as has happened in the USA).
- Stop young people from developing resilience - just as contact with germs stimulates our immune system, encountering set-backs helps us to develop resilience.
- Indirectly communicate to young people the idea that they are fragile and unable to cope with life's challenges - this is not a good message for young people's mental health.
- Encourage young people to fear negative feelings/failure/ disappointment/challenges and lead them to blow out of all proportion any small thing that happens to them.
- Undermine their well-being and confidence.