Tweens are well aware of the materialistic world around them and many are wired with cell phones, iPods, or MP3 players that feed them constant and unrealistic messages. They easily confuse who they are with what they have, believing that owning better stuff makes them better people. This fallacy is both inconsistent with developing a healthy ego, and dangerous, if kids engage in risky behavior to enhance their self-esteem.
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Issues of Self-Esteem May Go Unrecognized by Kids and Their Parents
Unable to process the pressure they feel from peers, teachers, coaches, and siblings, kids often replace their discomfort with a material reward. At home, kids may be told that they are wonderful, talented, clever and smart; but at school they may feel “less than” when someone else seems smarter or more popular. The perceptive parent should be a sounding board for the child who expresses self-doubt and confusion.
Parents cannot always absorb the brunt of the child’s turmoil, and kids will always push the envelope, test boundaries, and try to manipulate adults. But if a child seems unduly preoccupied with an event, relationship or issue, it may signal something more troubling. Vague disclaimers that there is nothing wrong, or changes in behavior should not be ignored.
Tattoos & Body Piercings Outside May Point to a Struggle for Identity on the Inside
Body piercing, tattoos, and various hair colors or funky styles give teens the opportunity to stand out from their peers. Kids who may feel discounted by absentee parents, school, or social problems often look elsewhere for validation, sometimes turning to alcohol, drugs, sex and the internet for attention. Reaching out to others in internet chat rooms seems safe enough and allows kids to role play and experiment with virtual behavior, but predators and criminals know this, too.
The physical maturity and psychological bravado of young teen masks a much frailer ego beneath the surface. Constant text messaging is an easy way to get validation. Parental discipline, not friendship, is the safety net that children rely on to feel secure. It is more important to be vigilant than to succumb to the myth that, “My child would never do that.” The mixed messages that kids get from home and society, added to peer pressure, can create chaos and self doubt in the mind of a ‘tween or teen.
Communication & Consistency are Key Elements to Nurturing Healthy Self-Esteem
Parents try to maintain the value system they set for the family, despite loud protests for independence and rebellion from their kids. Communication sets up healthy boundaries, underscores moral and ethical norms, and teaches children who they are in the context of family values. Parents who monitor academic performance, peer group involvement, and other activities can stay engaged and in touch.
As kids develop their own identities, frustrations naturally arise. Listening and allowing kids to vent help to diffuse anger. Listening parents who seek input on routine family activities and discipline are better prepared to discuss more critical issues later. Upsets arise, but buying kids more things is not the answer.
Parents need to use clear and direct communication with their kids regarding values and boundaries. Dishonesty may stems from fear of punishment, disappointment, or loss of parental affection or respect, but telling lies about unimportant things can be a symptom of insecurity or low self-esteem. Children should not fear their parents, but they should know when they have overstepped their boundaries in unacceptable ways.
Parents Model the Behavior They Want to Encourage in the Maturing Child
Kids require concrete examples and good modeling in order to develop well adjusted personalities, rather than developing into selfish, self-indulgent adults. Emphasis on other-than material possessions can clarify that point. The major factors in fostering healthy attitudes about “self” include:
- Self-discipline – Stick to your goals; don’t procrastinate; finish what you start.
- Self-respect – Set high standards for yourself and others; accept defeat; fulfill your promises to others.
- Self-esteem – Give of your time; accept praise; perform random acts of kindness.
- Self-motivation – Look beyond the immediate situation; set long term goals; inspire yourself
The development of the “self” demands a distinction between self-indulgence and healthy self-esteem. The focus that parents place on self image often defines their children. Instead of indulging themselves and their children by buying material things, parents need to model the behavior they want to foster in their kids.