Self-Esteem in Time and Place: How American Families Imagine, Enact, and Personalize a Cultural Ideal

ISBN : 9780199959723

Peggy J. Miller
320 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Dec 2017
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The concept of self-esteem is a fixture in the psychological and moral landscape of American society. This is especially true in the arena of childrearing: images and references to self-esteem are ubiquitous in academic, educational, and popular media. Yet, until now, little has been known about what self-esteem means to parents or how self-esteem infiltrates everyday practices. Self-Esteem in Time and Place reveals how self-esteem became a touchstone of American childrearing in the early years of the 21st century. At the heart of this book is the Millennial study, an empirical investigation of diverse families in one Midwestern town. European American, African American, middle-class, and working-class parents of young children embraced self-esteem as a childrearing goal and believed that fostering children's self-esteem was critical to their psychological health and future success. To achieve this goal, they enacted a high maintenance style of childrearing comprised of assiduous monitoring, copious praise, and gentle discipline. These practices differed dramatically from most cultural cases in the ethnographic record. Together, parents and children created an early moment in a child-affirming developmental trajectory. Three-year-olds developed a precocious ability to praise themselves and solicit praise from others. As active participants and inventive agents, children and parents alike engaged in a process of personalization, nuancing their views in light of their social positioning and infusing normative ideas and practices with personal significance. The result is an account of unparalleled depth and nuance that situates childrearing and self-esteem in time and place, traces its roots to 19th century visionaries, and identifies the complex, multi-layered contexts from which this enduring cultural ideal derives its meanings.


Introduction; Section I: Histories ; Chapter 1 Origins of the Self-Esteem Imaginary; Chapter 2 The Age of Self-Esteem; Section II: Beliefs ; Chapter 3 A Chorus of Parental Voices; Chapter 4 Nuanced and Dissenting Voices; Section III: Practices; Chapter 5 Praise and Affirmation; Chapter 6 Discipline; Chapter 7 Child-Affirming Artifacts; Section IV: Persons; Chapter 8 Emily Parker and Her Family; Chapter 9 Eric Prewitt and His Family; Chapter 10 Charisse Jackson and Her Family; Chapter 11 Brian Tatler and His Family; Chapter 12 Commentary: Personalization; Chapter 13 Conclusions; Appendix A: Methods for the Millennial Study; Bibliography; About the Authors; Index

About the author: 

Peggy J. Miller is Professor Emerita in the Departments of Psychology and Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a developmental cultural psychologist whose scholarship bridges disciplines in search of a culture-inclusive understanding of human development. She has written extensively on early socialization, personal narrative, and ethnographic methods.; Grace E. Cho is Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at St. Olaf College. She is also faculty in the Family Studies and the Gender Studies Programs. Located at the intersection of developmental psychology, family studies, and cultural psychology, her research focuses on the sociocultural factors and parenting processes that shape children's emotional and self development.

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