Angela Duckworth attacks the self-esteem boosters:
Self-esteem has gone up in the United States; achievement has not. If anything, compared with other countries, we have done worse, but our kids feel really good about themselves on average. What seems particularly interesting, and there is an article by J. P. Tangney on this, is that there is an uncoupling between your perception of your own competence and how much you like yourself. Many American kids, particularly in the last couple of decades, can feel really good about themselves without actually being good at anything. This is the problem with the "self-esteem at all costs" message. Self-esteem should be earned.
I worte a rant on exactly this theme a few years back for Time. Here it is. Money quote:
New research has found that self-esteem can be just as high among D students, drunk drivers and former Presidents from Arkansas as it is among Nobel laureates, nuns and New York City fire fighters. In fact, according to research performed by Brad Bushman of Iowa State University and Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, people with high self-esteem can engage in far more antisocial behavior than those with low self-worth.
(Hat tip: Jonah Lehrer)