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Stress, and Self-Esteem, and Children- Reflections on Andrew Lam's Essays

Added: Sunday, April 1st 2012 at 7:17pm by NanelleT
Related Tags: children, stress, self esteem

Warning:  Sleep-deprived ramblings of a passionate mother. Leave now if you are of the age or mind-set that your parents still don’t know more than you! 

Just yesterday I was attempting to reassure my 9th grade daughter that everyone was not worried about her and how she dresses, and what she says, and were, in fact, so consumed with their own appearance and self-consciousness as to barely notice hers.  Sure there are those out there that make it their job to point out others faults, so nobody will look at theirs, but most teens are simply trying to navigate their own way through life and are generally supportive of each other in their shared journey.  At least, this appears to be the case within the circles my daughter is associated with.   I sensed from her, that despite the fact that I was once right there where sheisandremember it vividly, she couldn’t accept my token of wisdom as truth.  This seems to be a universal trait of teenagers.  With their push towards independence, it is expected that they will have to draw their own conclusions through their own choices- successes and mistakes.  This is simply the only way to really learn life lessons.

There is a very delicate and difficult balance to navigate between protecting our children and preparing them for their future.  In America, the land of opportunity-the culture is one of individuality.  There is much competition and our children are raised to believe that they can achieve whatever they want if they work hard enough.  Unfortunately, while access to education is essentially available to all through financial aid, and this presents great opportunity, it also fosters a sense of entitlement. 

This equal opportunity, if only in theory, is not available in many countries.  As Andrew Lam points out in East Eats West, in his essay, Stress Vietnamese-Style, in  Vietnam, “just a generation ago, more or less, everyone had to stand in line to buy rice, and moving from city to city was a prohibitively complex task that required navigating Vietnam’s heavy bureaucracy.” (p.94) But with increasing globalization and growth, opportunity is available now at an increasing rate.  With this opportunity comes stress.  With stratification of society, there is the ability to succeed at different levels. “Vietnamese are experiencing stress now because life is no longer routine…or rather new routines must be learned, and learned quickly…” says Michael, an American businessman who has been living in Vietnam for three years (Lam p.95).  While Asians’ traditional focus in education on hard work and cooperation has produced driven, responsible citizens, one has to question if their method, too, needs evaluation in our current times.  While children born in America may feel  entitled and unappreciative, children from Asia in America, having been raised to work hard, may view the opportunity that once was not there as all important.  This, coupled with the fact that, in America, the individual is valued over the community, and competition is fierce, can be a recipe for disaster.TheAsian-American suicide rate,while half that of “white” Americans, appears to be on the rise.  In fact,  Asian-American women aged 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group for that age range (CNN Health 5-16-2007). 

When it comes to the way children are raised and what they are exposed to, Asian children and American children differed greatly until recently when it came to entertainment.  Manga, known for containing rich character development and its share of tragedy,  has been popular in Asian societies for decades, at the same time that Disney in America was churning out a steady stream of Disney animated films featuring  alls-well-that-ends-well storylines.  Predictable and enchanting, they often leave the viewer with a warm feeling at the end.  Manga and Anime have become popular all over the world in the last two decades.  In his essay, Tragedy and the New American Childhood, Lam points out, “Modern-day American childhood is increasingly informed by a set of narratives that diverge radically from those told to children a generation or two ago.” (p.108)  This seems to me to go hand in hand with America’s unfortunate push on children to grow up too quickly.  All you have to do is watch a few commercials during kids programming or pick up a recent Toys R Us ad to see that toys aren’t even in anymore!  It’s all about media and electronics,  make-up, and style.  Toys R Us now sells clothing lines and media players  as much as it does stuffed animals and baby toys. The switch from more innocent Disney-like program to more realistic Manga and Anime seems inevitable to me.   

While it is sad to see the push to grow up, I am of the belief that children should be exposed in part to what the real world is like.  That’s not to say that I am a proponent of anything overtly inappropriate being shown to kids so much as I believe kids should not be protected from ALL the harsh realities the world has coming for them.  Kids are very perceptive and as adults, we often underestimate their ability to perceive what’s really going on.  If I rent, say a PG-13 movie and I look up the parental reviews, I will generally let my 9 and 11 year olds watch, provided it doesn’t contain anything sexually explicit.  I feel they do not need to view these things, but in terms oflanguageanda certain amount of violence, will watch it with them and discuss why these things happened in the movie, being careful to point out violence when it is not gratuitous, and avoiding it when it is.  I often speak to my kids about situations that are tragic and emphasize how people’s actions were involved in good and bad ways.  I want my children to learn the subtleties in behavior and be able to identify actions that are heroic or humble, or sacrificial in nature.  I want them to recognize how negative actions are such because they are self-serving or inconsiderate of others.  At the same time there are plenty of themes and issues that are just too heavy for children to comprehend, though for me, they are hard for myself as an adult to comprehend as well, so I reserve those subjects forthemostpart.

I believe raising children first and foremost, starts with unconditional love and acceptance.  Add to that discipline in terms of teaching them right from wrong.  A little pressure is a good thing, too.  I often tell my oldest daughter that when she’s a successful attorney (boy can she argue!), making a six-figure salary-keep in mind this child is the most  willful child I have ever seen and I have no doubt she will get there-that she’s going to pay for the damage her pregnancy did to my belly!  I think she is taking me seriously, and I’m fine with that.  ;) Additionally, I don’t believe any person can become successful without first dealing with failure in a healthy way.  Self-esteem is only truly gained through hard work, personal achievement (in whatever form fits that person) and some failure.  Children need to experience disappointment.  Disappointment drives one to work harder at being successful.  Children should be praised for a job well done, not so much a job done, but done half-way.  There is real danger in building self-esteem by just teaching children they are good across the board.  If there is no basis in truthful examples it is mere flattery.   They need life examplestovalidate them, each according to theirown ability. Because we, as humans, are not always good.  Sometimes we are downright BAD.  I live with consequences every day of others’ bad choices.  If children were taught more to work hard, strive high, fail sometimes, experience the pain and get back up, they will achieve more and even more important will develop empathy for others when they fail.  We still love our children when they fail, and should do the same for others.  This is what I hope to teach my children by dealing with their mistakes directly and having them try to ameliorate it through apology or restitution when necessary.  When we feel the consequences of our actions and face them and take responsibilityforthem, we learn to make a different choicethe next time the situation presents itself. As Andrew Lam states in Too Much Self-Esteem Can be Bad for Your Child, in Asian culture, “humility is still a virtue.”(p.99)  Humility can only come when you humble yourself, admit your faults and weaknesses, and get back up, all the more wiser for it.   


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