The Social Value of Self-Esteem
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- Rutherford, M.B. Soc (2011) 48: 407. doi:10.1007/s12115-011-9460-5
This essay reflects upon the current cultural skirmishes over the parenting practices of Americans, which have pitted “Helicopter Parents” against “Free-Range Kids”; “Tiger Mothers” against “Panda Dads;” and at-risk communities “Waiting for Superman” against privileged students in the “Race to Nowhere.” Despite the exaggerated claims of difference in these and other popular representations of the parenting wars, a common theme of building children’s self-esteem is evident as a cornerstone of contemporary American parenting practices. Through different means, the relatively privileged parents who write child-rearing memoirs (or confessionals) pursue a similar end: to build and enhance their children’s self-concept and emotional competence. In particular, professional-class parents who are anxious about their own prospects for continued success in a risky economy turn toward emotional capital as a necessary supplement to educational and extra-curricular success to ensure inter-generational transmission of advantage. The goals of emotional competence and self-esteem replicate the mechanisms of control to which elite parents are subjected in professional careers and therefore represent an important form of cultural capital in the reproduction of class advantages.