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Teens and Self Esteem

February 26, 2014

I remember being made fun of a lot in school. I was the only redhead, I had freckles and was chubby. I had issues as a teen that I never thought I would see in my own child. Or at least I hoped I wouldn’t see. My oldest is now 13 and I see her struggling with the same issues. She inherited my red hair and freckles. Although she is taller than me (currently taller at age 13) she is, according to her doctor, on the high end of the scale for weight.

The media is so much worse than it was when I was her age. We live in a society where looks are so important. I want to show her that being yourself is so much more important than being what other people say is cool. So, I look at my past and wonder how did I get out of it? The truth is I didn’t! I still worry about my weight and rarely leave the house without makeup. I was able to grow out of the depression stages I went through but there was no answer that helped. It took time.

For now, all I can do is talk to her. I have opened up to her about my own childhood and the struggles. I share what worked for me and what didn’t. I learned I can’t make her feel better with my words but showing her how to deal with her feelings is a great first step.

I want to share this letter with you.

Dear Teen,
I remember in 5th or 6th grade a friend of mine told me that we needed to change the way we dressed so we could be “cool”.  In that moment something clicked and I thought, do I want to change ME to fit what some OTHER people may or may not like?  After that time I never tried to conform to other people’s idea of “cool” and when peer pressure was applied I pushed back even harder.  I’m ME, I’m not changing so I can fit in with YOU people, why would I want to hang out with people who don’t accept me the way I am?  I knew I’d have a happier life if I allowed me to be myself and enjoy the things I liked rather than trying to fit someone else’s image of what I should be and missing out on the things I wanted to do.  I watched those ‘cool’ people always trying to keep up with each other, obsessing about the latest clothing, shoes, makeup or which boy/girl was the coolest/prettiest who they should be dating.  They never focused on what really made THEM happy, just what would make them be accepted by the other empty shells of people they hung out with.
What I found was after junior high these “cool” people had decided that it wasn’t fun to give me a hard time anymore because I didn’t care what they thought.  They only liked doing it when they could get a reaction out of me so when they saw that I didn’t care they started to leave me alone.

In high school I made a handful of friends who were happy to hang out with me being ME instead of me trying to fit in, we’re still friends many years later and we all still accept each other as we are instead of worrying about fitting in.  Instead of liking museums, books, theater, science and all kinds of music I could have forced myself to “like” movie stars, , rock-&-roll and beer so the “cool” kids would accept me but that wasn’t ME.  Who wants to put constraints on their life experiences simply because they don’t fit someone else’s image of “cool”?!

You are a smart, beautiful young girl.  I can see you when you’re 25 graduating with a PhD and publishing your research or starting at a big law firm or doing something great to help people and make an impact on society.  Those “cool” people will be working in the makeup department at Dillard’s and worrying that someone might see the wrinkles they’re starting to get or spending every dime they make trying to get the latest Coach purse or Jordan shoes so they’ll feel “accepted” only to “need” a new purse or shoes again a few weeks later to keep up with the trends.

I know you probably think advice from an adult is stupid but I’ve been there, I was an outsider growing up.  I remember people making fun of me for not having the latest shoes or whatever but when they did that I just reminded myself that my goal in life wasn’t to be accepted by them or to fit their standards, it was to live my own life and be happy.  When you think about your entire life, being accepted by some vapid, shallow people who won’t even remember you in a couple of years isn’t worth the effort.  Remember, these people have the attention span of a gnat.  They have a “favorite” new song and a week later that song is “sooooo last year” and they supposedly hate it.

I guess what I’m trying to say in my own awkward way is just be yourself and do the things you enjoy, if people accept you that way (and they will, believe me) then they are true friends, if they don’t then they didn’t deserve to be your friends anyway and you should just forget those people, they’re insignificant.  Don’t let these insignificant people make you unhappy, they aren’t worth your time.

I hope you feel empowered to talk to your teen. The only way to get answers is to ask questions! That statement goes both ways so make sure your teen knows it as well. Make sure they know that you will always answer their questions!

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