“The hardest part of raising children is teaching them to ride bicycles. A father can either run beside the bicycle or stand yelling directions while the child falls. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of self-esteem in the life of a teenager. Self-esteem, of course, is important to all ages, but it seems that during the teenage years this particular area reaches crisis proportions. This is the time when a young person begins to test who he or she is, or what he perceives himself to be, against his real world.
We have all seen a beautiful girl who for some reason seems withdrawn and unable to cope and is constantly moody and unsure. On the other hand, we’ve seen a girl who has relatively unattractive features, yet is vivacious, in the middle of things having fun, is well adjusted, doesn’t seem to be thrown by every little wave of the sea. In other words, she has a sense of well-being. This sense of well-being is not related so much to what attributes or appearance the young person has. It’s much more related to how they perceive themselves. A young person will tend to perform based on how he or she feels about himself or herself. They face a storm of insecurities brought on by comparisons: with the beautiful people they see in the media, with the “problems” the ads bombard them with (such as blemishes, hair without body, or nails the wrong color!, the wrong brand name on your clothes), with the other kids in school. As parents it’s our job to help them see the false values of a surface society and help them find their own personal identity. There are many ways we can do that. The most important is to provide affirmation and perspective. We provide affirmation by pointing out their good qualities, and helping them see that they are worthwhile and important. This affirmation is not just a matter of telling,
but it’s a matter of their experiencing worthwhileness by the way we treat them. If a young person is listened to, his opinions are valued, he is allowed to finish his sentences, if we answer his real questions and don’t talk through him, then he gets the idea that he is important and worthwhile. If he’s demeaned by being ignored, if his opinions are not valued, or if he’s ever told he can’t do anything right, he’ll tend to believe it.