Is positive reinforcement affecting self-esteem?

It is about time for my yearly checkup, but unlike other kids, I am not afraid to be going. I have always been one of those kids in the 99 percentile be it weight, height or reading ability. However, it makes me wonder, what are the long-term effects for kids who have not been told how well they are doing their entire life?

While the doctor’s office is one early example of this, schools send similar messages through grades and awards. Although schools try not to fall into this pattern, it is hard not to notice the same names on the Student of the Month roster month after month.

That is not to say that telling students they did a good job when they did is a bad thing. However, when one student is rewarded and another is not, it is as if the other student is being punished for their average performance.

It is often obvious which students are destined for success and which may fall short, but is there a correlation between successful students and positive reinforcement?

Students in AP and honors classes advance their learning, but the pressure put upon them can affect their performance, which over time is shown in their grades and, in the end, shakes their confidence. This year is an example of the 26 students who dropped AP World History when their grades began to fall.

It is far-fetched to say that not taking AP World History will change one’s life, but it may be one of the many aspects that slowly chips away at one’s self-confidence, which can ultimately affect a person’s pursuits later on.

On a personal note, I have seen the results of one’s confidence being shaken in an academic setting. My father was diagnosed as a dyslexic at 18 years old and had previously been told he was stupid because of the trouble he had in school. Now I see my father doubting himself, even 34 years after the fact.

Although schools have become better at helping students with learning disabilities in particular, long after their last English or math class, frustration and disappointment can still plague them.

While some students do well in almost every subject, others struggle in classes but may have one thing they are passionate about or at least interested in. One possible way of foregoing this social justification is to support students in whichever subject or topic they could be successful in pursuing.

If encouragement is what is needed to expel doubt and allows students to succeed now and later on in life, then this idea should be pursued. If each culture rewards people for their interests, then conditions that come with feelings of failure could be relinquished, enabling the culture to expand with the success of each individual. Or maybe it is just time that everyone did a “good job.”

-Delaney King