Parents and educators attending the first Utah Parent Teacher Association Conference were told they should be concerned about healthy self-esteem, not high or low self-esteem.

That was the main advice from youth advocate H. Stephen Glenn during his keynote address Saturday at Cottonwood High School.Glenn said labeling feelings as either "high" or "low" self-esteem only indicates a person's current point of reference. He defined healthy self-esteem as a knowledge that personal improvement can be made and knowing how to make the improvement. He said two pillars of healthy self-esteem are self-respect and personal advocacy (a validation of one's resourcefulness).

Glenn spoke out strongly against overachieving parents who do and decide too much for their children and make them objects of self-gratification.

"If we want kids to be assertive, we need things for them to practice at," he said, explaining that self-esteem developed through overcoming challenges affirms ability, rendering external sources of approval irrelevant.

He said some kids learn more from one day in a survival course - because of the challenging situations that lack rewards - than from an entire semester at school.

"When a child's self-esteem is based on gold stars . . . rewards, you create a hot-air balloon without a fuel supply or heater," Glenn said. "This always ends with a crash because they need outside help.

"When your self-esteem comes from falling down, then your self-esteem belongs to you because you earned it."

He said guilt, shame, punishment and rewards ultimately don't work on people or animals, explaining that it makes them selfish and self-centered.

He blasted Vince Lombardi's famous statement, "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," and replaced it with "winning isn't anything if you haven't challenged yourself to do better."

Glenn explained that failure itself can be a success if three questions are answered: What happened? What caused it? What can I learn from this experience for the future?

He said there is no nobility in being superior to another person, because the only true nobility lies in being superior to the person you were yesterday.

He said 27 years of self-esteem enhancement programs haven't worked because we should be training children to accept challenges, not to win or lose, succeed or fail. Glenn also denounced the parental tendency to focus importance on their children obtaining only high grades in school, saying kids need criteria with which to evaluate themselves.

More than 200 parents and teachers, mostly women, attended the all-day conference that also included workshops on building a spouse's self-esteem, raising self-reliant children and understanding the needs of single-parent families.