Editor's note: This article was first published in the former Daughters® magazine in two parts.
Part I: July/August 2002
I recently talked to a friend about a conversation she’d just had with her 24-year-old daughter. She’d been telling her daughter about a bad situation that Nicole, one of her oldest friends, had gotten herself into, and her daughter cut her off with a brusque, “It’s her own fault for being so spineless.” My friend was badly shaken, not only by her daughter’s lack of empathy for Nicole, but also because she knew that Nicole was a close friend. When she pointed out that Nicole deserved some compassion, her daughter simply said, “Not from me,” and changed the subject.
My friend then asked herself, as I sometimes have, if in carefully nurturing her daughter’s self-esteem, she had neglected to help her develop wisdom and compassion. In other words, we’ve both found there can be a dark side to untempered self-esteem.
I started thinking about this several years ago when touring for my book 200 Ways to Raise a Girl's Self-Esteem. Often the interviewer would say how fortunate my daughter must be. Those comments always made me squirm, because I knew that any knowledge I had came at the price of mistakes I’d made with my daughter, and that girl with sound self-esteem still had things to work on.
The three major problems I see emerging—entitlement, control, and intolerance—share a single cause: the emotional imbalance created when parents focus solely on developing their daughters’ self-esteem. In other words, some girls are growing up with an unhealthy sense if entitlement; using their newfound confidence to manipulate and control others; and becoming intolerant of others’ perspectives, so convinced are they of the rightness of their own.
But it’s hard to bring this issue up. It is not a regular conversational topic among folks who work to empower women. In fact, plenty of people will dismiss the whole critique as undermining the good work we do.
Despite the risks to the messenger, I am willing to raise this issue because I believe it is a vitally important one to correct if our daughters are going to live full and happy lives.
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