Self Esteem's Slippery Slope

A friend spent the summer teaching his son to tie his shoelaces. It took all of July and half of August. It required endless patience and persistence. As we all know, it is not easy to learn to tie your shoes, nor is it easy to teach it.



However, my son’s friend is 14. A completely normal 14-year-old boy who had never learned to tie his own shoes.


On the first day of school, my seventh grade daughter brought home a new friend. My daughter asked for $3 to buy chips at the corner grocery, a place she has been going to alone since she was five. It is six townhouses away. Perhaps 300 feet. You do not cross a street or a single driveway to get there. The owners know every member of our family. The trip to the market and back takes four minutes tops.


The friend said she couldn’t go. Her mom would get mad at her, she explained on our threshold. She is not allowed to go to the store - any store - by herself. She is 12 years old. She lives in a neighborhood that is nearly 100% crime-free, where the loudest gripes stem from dog owners who don’t scoop their poop.


Do you remember your daily life when you were 12 or 14? I rode my bike three miles to school along busy roads. I babysat for other children. I walked dogs in the neighborhood park by myself every day after school - and I walked to and from school by myself as well. When I was 14 my parents let me take an Amtrak train from Washington D.C. to New York City to visit a friend from camp - by myself. New York City!


My friend explained why his 14-year-old son did not know how to tie his laces. When the boy first started wearing shoes, my friend bought him Velcro sneakers. It made his son feel more independent, he explained. More self-confident. His son felt like a big boy putting on his own shoes every day. It was also easier on my friend, as well as his son’s babysitters and teachers, to not have to teach a four year old to tie a butterfly knot.


Great all around, right? Except that, as a ninth grader, this six foot tall young man did not know how to tie his own shoelaces. How’s that for a confidence boost?


I know the mom of my daughter’s friend is similarly well-meaning. She wants to protect her daughter from the evils of the world as long as she can. She works more than full-time hours in a demanding, high pressure job. She cannot be home to oversee her daughter’s every move. Instead she substitutes by making rigid, blanket rules her daughter is terrified not to follow.


I worry about this child once she grows up and her mom’s rules no longer apply to her life.


Self-esteem is a tricky asset to develop. It's slope can curve upward - or straight down. Esteem is oddly fragile and easy to destroy, especially in children, and harder to rebuild than to tear down. Strangely, esteem does not come from success - easy victories can make people more insecure, arrogant, and even paranoid. True self-reliance does not come from never making a mistake. It doesn’t come from being praised over accomplishments that are not truly meaningful, like memorizing the alphabet at age two or Velcroing your sneakers or following empty rules perfectly.



Oh crap, I better teach my son (he's 6) how to tie his shoes.

My 10th grader's classmates' parents are having a fit about their kids watching R-rated movies in Spanish Cinema class. We've already watched most of these movies with her. And, frankly, I get a chuckle out of the idea of her getting to be embarrassed watching any sex scenes in a movie with her teacher and classmates. And in Spanish. How fun!

Then, my 10-year old gets invited to see a movie on Friday. "They girls are going to see Dreamhouse," the mom tells me. I'm clueless about movies and the title sounds like just the kind of lame Disney movie my daughter would like. Then, my older daughter informs me that it is a horror movie, the one I couldn't even watch the commercials for. Ok, gotta put my foot down on this one and mostly because I don't want the 10-year old sleeping in my bed for the rest of the year.

So, what's my attention, but remember that they will eventually actually be adults and on their own and it won't be long. And it might be nice if they can wear shoes with laces.


What a great piece. We recently dealt with a situation with our oldest son. He has longed for the time when he would be old enough to start football, he's 7. Anyway, we started practices in July which in my/opinion is the worst time to do so. We blazed through 4the weeks of practice and noticed towards week three he was dragging a bit in enthusiasm. My husband his daddy and a true football player (from 4th grade thru high school) sat him down and to our true dismay learned from his own little lips he simply wasn't ready. I was CRUSHED! I love ALL sports and am of the opinion when you start something you finish it. My husband was disappointed as well but handled it like a champ! I just sat in awe watching this exchange.

After all was said and done he feels so much more confident in himself simply because he had the guts to tell us he wasn't ready. There was such a n upward swing in his attitude in general.

In closing it was hard for us to let him make this decision but felt he really grew in confidence through this experience.
Bettina Cassell


I 100% agree with you and thank you for writing this article! I am always looking for ways to give my kids independent experiences so that one day they will become men, with good heads on their shoulders and little fear for living life.