Teachers â€œobsessed with praisingâ€ are creating a generation of egotistical pupils, a child psychologist has warned. By Urmee Khan Last Updated: 12:55PM GMT 15 Mar 2009
School staff and parents feel they cannot criticise their children for fear of upsetting them, according to Dr Carol Craig, leaving them with an â€œall about meâ€ mentality.
Mothers and fathers now often tell teachers that it is â€œbad for his self-esteemâ€ if their son fails a spelling test, or that their daughter is left â€œunhappyâ€ by missing out on a part in the school pantomime, she claimed.
Dr Craig called the self-esteem agenda, which has been imported from the United States, a â€œfashionable ideaâ€ that has gone too far and urged schools to reclaim their role as educators, not psychologists.
Since 2007, there has been a statutory responsibility on all schools in England to improve pupilsâ€™ wellbeing. Primary and secondary schools are increasingly teaching social and emotional skills, which include teaching children how to â€œmake and sustain friendships without hurting others.â€
Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, is expected to start measuring how successful they are in this area with indicators such as teenage pregnancy.
But Dr Craig, chief executive of the centre for confidence and wellbeing in Glasgow, said: â€œWe are wrong in thinking we have to get the â€˜Iâ€™ bigger. If we say to people the most important thing is how you feel about yourself, then if a child fails maths and feels bad, it is very tempting for them to blame it on others like teachers and parents.
â€œParents no longer want to hear if their children have done anything wrong. This is the downside of the self-esteem agenda. The problem is that if you tell parents that its incredibly important that children feel good all the time, we will get people going out of the way to boost childrenâ€™s self esteem all the time.â€
She said an obsession with childrenâ€™s self esteem was breeding narcissism.
Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham, Dr Craig said: â€œNarcissists make terrible relationship partners, parents and employees. Itâ€™s not a positive characteristic. We are in danger of encouraging this.
â€œAnd we are kidding ourselves if we think that we arenâ€™t going to undermine learning if we restrict criticism.â€
The conference heard how a maths teacher in one school had corrected a pupil who had placed a zero in the wrong place. The pupil replied: â€œThank you, but I prefer it my way.â€
Dr Craig went on: â€œSchools have to hold out that they are educational establishments.
â€œThey are not surrogate psychologists or mental health professionals.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, defended the Governmentâ€™s focus on wellbeing, however.
â€œSocial and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) helps schools to create a safe and emotional healthy school environment where pupils can learn effectively. The skills help pupils to be confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives and responsible citizens who can make a positive contribution to society.
â€œThere is convincing international evidence to show that social and emotional learning programmes like SEAL can help to improve childrenâ€™s behaviour, wellbeing and attainment. The Institute of Education evaluation of the primary school SEAL pilot in this country found it had a major impact on attitudes to school and was also associated with improvements in attainment.â€