How Teens Define Self-Esteem

I love to ask teen girls to define self-esteem. Some of them give very poignant definitions of self-esteem. They mention how they feels about  themselves and how others view them as well. They use words such as self-image, self-love, respect, confidence and dignity. Others talk about self-esteem in relation to what it is not.  As in, it’s not putting yourself down, telling yourself that you are fat, doing what others tell you, and  it’s not letting people walk all over you. Some of the girls are more comfortable giving examples of how they see self-esteem in their life instead of giving me a definition. Some tell me stories related to positive self-esteem.  I hear stories of doing well on a test, having a boy like them, or scoring a goal during a sporting event. While others relay stories about negative self-esteem. These stories usually start with the phrase “let me tell you about the worst day of my life” and usually end with somebody fighting, crying, lying to a parent, throwing up/passing out at a party and/or all of the above. A few have told me how their self-esteem depends upon the situation they are in and therefore couldn’t give me one concrete definition. A chameleon approach.  As in, with their academics they feel more confident, but when it comes to fitting in with their peers they feel less comfortable and have lower self-esteem.  And lastly, some girls simply used free association to define self-esteem and say words like: body image, maturity, respect, confidence, and liking yourself.  What I find so surprising is that they can articulate that the core concept of self-esteem comes from within, yet when trying to build that self-esteem, they look externally.  To friends, to trends and most likely to boys. Obviously, some of these answers vary depending upon the girl’s age, life experiences and ability to articulate self-esteem. However, by and large they seek outside themselves for validation and self-esteem.  We need to challenge their thinking and offer them ways of approaching self-esteem internally.  Dialogue with them on what’s going on and give useful feedback, tools and techniques that can help build their self-esteem today, tomorrow and the next  no matter what life throws their way.
 
 
Dr Carol
 

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