And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12 (NKJV)
For several years now, we have been told by psychologists, educators, and others that we should praise children. “It is good for their self esteem”, we have been told. “It motivates children”, we have also been told. It is true that praise, given when it is truly earned, can be beneficial. However, when too much praise is given, or when praise is given undeservedly, it can also have negative effects.
Undeserved praise can cause a child to think too highly of self. It also may set a standard lower than what the child is capable of doing. It may cause a child to become too bold and over-confident rather than humble, as the Bible teaches us to be.
Children are taught to believe their parents. If a parent continually tells the child how wonderful the child is, that child may come to believe s/he is better than other children. I’ve observed through the years how children act during programs. At one time, children were conscientious about how they stood, how they dressed, how they held their hands, etc. Now, many times, there seems to be no concern about any of these things, but rather an attitude of anything goes. Granted, it was not good to be overly concerned about details, but a little more concern now might be nice. At times, it seems that some children have the attitude that they are supposed to be liked no matter what they do. This attitude may have been caused by parents or others giving too much praise.
When a child is praised, the praise sets a standard of what is acceptable. Instead of motivating a child to do better, the child is thinking that what was done is great and no improvement is needed. The same holds true in organizations when leaders give praise to adults for what they have done. Even those listening may be thinking, “If that is worthy of praise, then I don’t have to do very much to be praised.” Wouldn’t we rather motivate people to strive to do better than to be content with mediocre effort?
It is often easier to listen to what the world tells us than to remember what the Bible tells us. There are many Scriptures about the importance of humility. Of course, we are to tell our children that we love them. To do so, coupled with the explanation of God’s love for them, gives a security without risking the development of over-confidence in the child or setting a low standard. The world tells us to develop self-esteem in a child. Self worth can only be achieved by being worthy. It cannot be given.
Could it be that our country is now reaping the results of over-praising children? That, coupled with allowing children to move from grade to grade in school, without mastering needed subject matter, is taking its toll on our nation.
Let’s praise our children, yes, but only if deserved and not overdone.