Bill Maher’s Musing About Kid’s Self-Esteem. Was He Right?

Bill Maher’s Musing About Kid’s Self-Esteem. Was He Right? May 29, 2024

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“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein 

Being a mother of six, I often wonder, did my husband and I get it right? I stayed home, and my husband worked. When elementary school started, I was home each afternoon with the kids. Now our kids are grown, serving in the military, working, 2 of our boys have graduated college and our twins are in their last semester of college. Three of our boys received full scholarships to college, and our youngest daughter attended the Naval Prep Academy.  We are proud parents. There are still times that I look back and think, “Goodness, I should have said this a different way.” or “I should have emphasized this situation a little differently.” I wish there was a handbook for when they are grown. 

Bill Maher is writing about kids? 

Today I read an article by the very talented Bill Maher (his show is a staple in our house). I never thought that Bill would write an article about kids. In his show he regularly says that he is not a kid guy, yet he finds himself defending them more and more. In his article, he articulated that American children score low in math and science, yet high on the self esteem scale. Basically, our kids are performing at the bottom, yet they still think they are the best at it? Why is that? This brought to mind a retired Naval Commander and his wonderful teaching to our six children.

Middle School was hard

When our kids entered middle school, my husband and I decided that we would home school the kids. I had worked in the local middle school in our area. To be blunt, I was a bit floored by the level of chaos that reigned in the school. The talking back, the raging hormones and minds that are coming to terms with growing up. My hat was off to those middle school teachers. We were very blessed to be able to make the decision to home school. Now, this is where I often think, “Did I get it right?” I am not the best at math, sometimes organization is a bit challenging and it was a scary thought. Thank goodness for home school curriculum. We made it.

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After middle school, we decided to put the kids back in public school. We also set the expectation that the kids would join the Naval Junior Officer’s Reserve Corp to have a sense of purpose and service. Why? Kids need direction and something to work towards. My grandmother used to say, “An idle mind is the devil’s tool.” She was not a particularly learned woman, she probably read that in a Reader’s Digest one day and thought, “that’s right!” To put it succinctly, we wanted the kids to have a sense of something greater than self.

A Retired Naval Commander made a difference in our lives

When our oldest son became the Executive Officer of the JROTC, we were thrilled. He was surprised. You see, the retired Naval Commander of the program saw that our son worked hard (even when no one was watching.) The look of, “Oh wow!” When they announced his name was so gratifying. All around cheered with great gusto. The Commander of the unit told our son that he saw his values at work and he appreciated them. The next year, our daughter was the Commanding Officer of the unit for the same reason. She worked hard, she cared and wanted to make a difference in the lives around her. 


A few years later, we had our other kids go through the program. At the first change of command ceremony, the Commander walked up to the microphone, cleared his throat and said, “If your child does not receive an award, it is because I expect hard work. You can’t just think you are the best, you have to give your best; even when no one is watching.” The ceremony was a bit more tense that year. As our last 3 kids went through the program, that statement was uttered each year with more frustration sounding in Commander’s voice. 

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By our twin boy’s junior year, Commander was tired. He told a group of parents that he was going to resign. One of his reasons was that parents were hounding him continually about their kid not getting the position or award they thought they deserved. Those questions were bleeding into the attitudes and minds of the kids. The situation had gotten so baffling that the parents went to the school administration to complain. Having worked with Commander for more than ten years, it was common knowledge that he rewarded hard work. He rewarded good character, he just didn’t give an award for an award’s sake. It was a sad day when he resigned from the continued pressure. 

Did Maher’s musing make sense?

This brings to mind Maher’s musing. Is the idea that kids have too little self esteem antiquated? Often I hear Maher say on his show that we in America don’t correct our behavior a little bit. We tend to over-correct. Obviously there are always exceptions. Some kids live in a bad situation and it is heart-wrenching. But as Maher continued, he wrote that all this self-esteem and awards for awards sake and being proclaimed you are number one (when you are clearly not) is producing “Angry, screaming grievance collectors.” 

Has self-esteem changed over the years?

My mother and her siblings grew up in a children’s home in the 1940’s. To hear a few of her stories, they were shaken, stirred and beaten spiritually and at times, physically. I could see how some people of that time didn’t have high self-esteem in their toolbox. But now? Is it perhaps time for a change in approach because of over-correction? As Maher ended the article, he talked about how all of this tolerance is resulting in grown-up tyrants who can now do no wrong. There is no sense of self reflection of changing attitudes and flaws. 

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From my view, I saw a change in a wonderful retired Naval Commander, turned teacher, in just 10 years. He went from hopeful to frustrated. From telling students to embrace their strengths and learn about them, to getting an award for simply existing (with parents yelling at him constantly.) My husband and I always told our kids to pick a vocation that you can stand and realize that you are not always the best. We can’t always win first place. But we can work hard, even when no one is watching. We had our moments raising that many kids. They talked back, they made mistakes, we made mistakes, we got it wrong at times. No parent is perfect. But perhaps that is the issue? We expect perfect in an imperfect world. Maybe, Commander’s motto was work harder at your strengths and help raise those strengths in others. 


Maybe Maher’s words will resonate with some. As always, there are exceptions in life. My husband refers to them as, “shades and gradients.” But his words are worth pondering. 

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