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

Peggy J. Miller, Grace E. Cho

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Self-Esteem in Time and Place reveals how self-esteem became a touchstone of American childrearing in the early years of the twenty-first century. Until now, almost nothing has been known about self-esteem as understood by ordinary parents or practiced as part of everyday family life. In the study reported here, parents of young children, living in a small Midwestern city, embraced self-esteem as a childrearing goal at a time when images and discourses of self-esteem proliferated across the cultural landscape. European American, African American, middle-class, and working-class parents believed that fostering young 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 comprising 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. As active participants and inventive agents, they also engaged in a process of personalization, nuancing their views in light of their social positioning and infusing normative ideas and practices with personal significance. These insights emerged from an innovative interdisciplinary study that draws on diverse sociocultural theories and incorporates intellectual history, interviews with parents, media texts and images, and longitudinal ethnographic observations. It situates the social imaginary of childrearing and self-esteem in time and place, traces its roots to nineteenth-century visionaries, and identifies the complex, multilayered contexts from which this enduring cultural ideal derives its meanings.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages290
ISBN (Electronic)9780190698898
ISBN (Print)9780199959723
StatePublished - 2018


  • Childrearing
  • Cultural practices
  • Development
  • Ethnography
  • Family life
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Parents
  • Self-esteem
  • Social imaginary
  • Sociocultural
  • Young children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Self-Esteem in Time and Place: How American Families Imagine, Enact, and Personalize a Cultural Ideal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this