'Tweens, Teens and Self-esteem
One Mom Wants to Know
I recently received a letter from a parent regarding self-esteem and her tween daughter. Her daughter is a good athlete, a great student, and yet, she still has a low self-concept. Not only that, this low self-image was starting to erode her confidence in both her academics and her sports, and was starting to affect her performance in both. This mom had done everything right: encouraged her daughter, cheered her on, helped her explore her passions, shared positive feedback with her, and still, the daughter just couldn't seem to move past having a low self-image. The mom was looking for guidance and wanted reassurance that she hadn't done anything "wrong" to contribute to this.
Being that so many tween and teen girls experience this issue, I decided to blog about it rather than just answer this mom individually.
The tween years can be tumultuous and fraught with uncertainties. Peers begin to take on a whole new level of importance, and tweens can be merciless when they compare themselves to others. Tweens are also painfully aware of the media's narrow portrayal of female beauty: thin, blemish free, asymmetrical features, perfectly proportioned, and so forth!
It's Just Impossible
Those images are not only near-impossible to live up to...they are impossible to live up to. Even the models themselves don't look as good as the media portrays them. After they've been painted, sprayed, photographed, photo-shopped and edited, they look nothing like their "real" selves. The media is only one piece of the puzzle, but it is a piece that has far-reaching influence. Girls can begin to internalize these images and begin to use them as a yardstick from which they measure their own worth.
If you are looking to join the good fight on stopping how the media shortchanges our girls, I respect and highly recommend that you read more by Dr. Robyn Silverman, Dr. Jennifer Shrewmaker and Melissa Wardy at Pigtail Pals. These women are a strong force in changing things for our girls. Also, you may wish to check out our very own resource for tween and teen girls, "My Thoughts on Life: A Teen Girls' Guide". It can be used individually, or purchased with a multi-user license for therapists, group leaders, scouting, church groups, camp activities and MORE!
When Good Enough isn't Good Enough
Not one of us is perfect. Not one. But each and every one of us is good enough. When a tween or teen is struggling with self-image, they can become their own worst enemy. The self-deprecating remarks you may hear, "I'm fat!", "This haircut makes my nose look huge!", "I'm so dumb. I'll never get this math!", are only the tip of the iceberg. 'Tweens and teens can have an ongoing dialogue of negativity that plays like an endless-loop-tape in their heads.
What's a Parent to Do?
The first line of defense is to drop the guilt and recognize that it is very unlikely that there is anything that you have done to contribute to this problem (provided you have not been verbally or emotionally abusive or demeaning to your child). Next, recognize that a lot of this problem stems from societal expectations (which are way greater and more intense than they were when you and I were 'tweens or teens). Finally, know that the ongoing barrage of negative thoughts originate in your child's head, stemming from irrational thoughts that she is likely not even aware of....YET.
Continue to provide support, encouragement and positive feedback. Be aware, though, that research has shown that telling our kids things like, "You're great! See how smart you are! You're the best!" might not be as powerful as saying things like, "You tried so hard. You must be proud of how you hung in there and didn't give up. You are dedicated! You worked hard and you did it! Look at how strong you are! Your attitude is top-notch!" Try to incorporate this way of communicating with your child and see what a difference it makes over time.
Provide your daughter with books about positive female role-models, who overcame adversity or accomplished great things by trying.
Offer your daughter books that focus specifically on self-esteem and self-development and that were written specifically with her age-group in mind. Click on any of the images below to learn more about the book. (Apologies for the formatting...I'm no "html" expert...but I'm going with the flow and have decided that it's "good enough" the way it is!)
As always, happy parenting!