Have you heard the term “self-esteemia”? If it sounds like a disease, it actually is! The vital character trait of self-esteem has shifted from an attribute to an affliction in the wake of “overparenting” tendencies among today’s generation of moms and dads. Before you stop reading, this is not an indictment – rather an awareness of how the best intentions can lead us astray. In the past decade or so, the word “self-esteem” itself has been overused to the point where it has morphed from a “capability” to face life’s challenges by confronting mistakes and dealing with adversity into a “condition” that results in a skewed and overstated sense of self.

While self-esteem is characterized by being a good person, self-esteemia is marked by an inflated opinion of oneself that has more to do with feeling good than necessarily being good. The difference between the two is more than an “i” and an “a.”

Self-esteem supposes the need for honest introspection, healthy self-doubt, and objective self-appraisal regarding one’s own strengths and weaknesses (okay, areas for growth!). It’s hard to sustain this in the face of pervasive overtures that encourage self-esteemia: A sign in a school bathroom that proclaims, “You are special.” A PSA on television that promotes optimism with the statement, “I am the greatest hitter in the world.” A bully who, it turns out, acts the way he does because he suffers from unearned high self-esteem. A financial CEO whose sense of self-worth translates into riding a golden parachute while his company crashes. I could go on and on – but I don’t want to get into politics!

In the future, I’ll cover some methods you can use to cultivate self-esteem rather than to fall into the trap of self-esteemia, which is being marketed persistently in today’s culture. For now, here is an overarching thought: don’t protect your child from every potential failure; unconditional love must be accompanied by healthy doses of recognizing imperfections.

I will leave you with these thoughts from the talented and prescient Dr. Seuss, whose prolific works include, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Later in the story, Dr. Seuss tempers his optimism with this sobering reality:

“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly it’s true – that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.”

Today’s children need coping skills and courage; it’s a no-brainer. Let me know what you think about self-esteemia. Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Do you have examples to share where life’s bumps and bruises have contributed positively to character development?