Self-Esteem and Teens
By Skye Thomas
Ideally, we raise our children from the cradle to have a positive sense of self-esteem. A child that has always had a strong sense of who they are and were they want to go with their life isn't as likely to dabble in drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex. A child who has a safe open dialog with at least one of their parents isn't as likely to keep secrets and start sneaking around during the teenage years. A child who has been raised to set personal boundaries isn't as likely to let peer pressure dictate their standards of conduct. Children who have been raised to recognize their own gifts and limitations are able to make their own choices about what is in their long-term best interest. But most teens weren't raised perfectly and they know it, so along with the lack of self-confidence they are often carrying at least a little bit of animosity towards the authority figures that have failed them.
Teens have a double-edged sword in their hands. On the one side, they have none of the adult wisdom that comes from making their own choices and seeing for themselves what does and does not work for them. On the other side, they have serious hormone levels which by design gives them the feeling of strength and immortality. You see it in boys especially. There's nothing quite like a heavy dose of testosterone to give a previously insecure boy the belief that he can tackle the opposing football team or even ask the most popular girl out on a date. Hormones foster a temporary manic form of self-esteem in teens that often gets them into more trouble then good.
They think their new can-do attitude is enough to get them through life, but the truth is, those hormone levels eventually mellow out and their original lack of self-esteem will come back. Often you'll see young adults in their early to mid-twenties undergoing a depression as the reality of their limited belief systems drift back into their awareness. It's like the tide just came back in. From this place, a lot of folks decide that nothing they do ever really matters and they resign themselves to a dull uneventful life. They put their dreams up on a shelf and most never bother to try again. Remember back in your own life, when did you give up on your dreams?
We need to educate our teens in advance that the superman complex will wear off and that they will go back to being normal people again. That doesn't make them failures, it just makes them human. It should be taught in the health curriculum along with defining the upcoming body changes, that when all of that stabilizes, they will no longer feel invincible. That would help them to not go through a withdrawal type depression later in life. "When I was young, I always dreamed of being a _____ when I grew up. Now I'm just answering phones on this customer service hotline being yelled at everyday by irate customers. This is definitely not what I had in mind when I pictured 'happily ever after'."
Yes, we should teach them self-esteem from the time they are born. Yes, we should teach them how to create a balance between self-obsession and caring about others' needs. And yes, we should teach them that there is a time and a place for immediate gratification and a time and a place for delayed gratification. But what is often missed is the basic core belief that they are capable of doing anything they set their minds to. Teens should be taught that it takes hard work and determination to make the big important dreams come true. It's fun to dream of becoming an overnight success as a rock star or as an athlete, but that behind the scenes their heroes did work hard to master their craft and to become noticed by people who had the ability to promote them. Teach them that luck is something that rarely finds you, you often have to go looking for it. We have to teach our teens the nuts and bolts of how to make their dreams come true.
We have to talk to them and find out what their goals are. Then we have to help them plot a course that is exciting and adventurous. Help them understand that they can accomplish a lot towards fulfilling those goals now, but that there will come a day when nature dictates they will slow down and the fire in their belly will become a quiet ember. They need to be forewarned so they will stay focused now and can get a lot of the hard work done before hand. That's why they need to go to college as soon as possible, or train as apprentices now, or practice their craft until they can perform inside out and upside down in their sleep. They have to work hard while they have the youthful drive to do so. Encourage them to run with their dreams in a positive logical direction that will actually get them where they want to go. Show them how to look backwards over their shoulder once in a while to see just how far they have come and that they may not be at their ultimate finishing point, but they've made wonderful progress so far.
Don't let them tell you that they don't have any goals and that there is nothing they are good at anyway. Somewhere in their grumpy little hearts is a dream, make them find it. Self-esteem doesn't come from someone else telling us that we are capable. Self-esteem comes from fighting, scratching and digging our way towards something. It's that little voice somewhere in the back of our minds whispering, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." and that doesn't come from Mommy and Daddy. That comes from pushing ourselves beyond our easy comfort zones.
Copyright 2004, Skye Thomas, Tomorrow's Edge
About The Author
Skye Thomas is the CEO of Tomorrow's Edge, an Internet leader in inspiring leaps of faith. Her books, articles, and astrological forecasts have inspired people of all ages and faiths to recommit themselves to the pursuit of happiness.