Perfectionism and Protection- A Teen’s Story of Addiction and Control

 She’s a petite 17-year-old girl, with little makeup and a kind smile. She is an only child. She has good relationships with her friends and loves to talk with them about boys, school stress, and gossip. She would never talk specifically about struggle she’s dealing with at home, but she will hint about them indirectly with her friends. She doesn’t talk to any of her friends about serious issues that she’s dealing with nor does she talk to her parents. I innocently asked, who’s there for you?  Her response,“that’s why I now have a therapist.”  She explained how when she was 16 years old she had everything bottled up inside her and struggled with depression, extreme mood swings and sought solace in drugs and alcohol. She talked about how her depression hit an all-time low at one point and she overdosed. Her drug of choice ecstasy and alcohol of choice vodka. Once this happened she had to come clean to her parents and tell them about the depression and obviously the drugs and alcohol. She was extremely scared because she had never opened up to them about “anything” before. When she told her parents about the drug issue her mom cried and her dad was sad. She was surprised by how open and comforting they were about her situation and sent her to rehab. The thing she feels the worse about is that by coming clean to her parents, she’s basically admitting to them that they don’t know her. She’s been lying to them. Lying about who she is and what she does. This truly bothered her the most. She said that time heals all when talking about going into treatment for her drug and alcohol issues. She then tells me that on top of the drug and alcohol issues and the depression, she also had an eating disorder. She had become anorexic for a period of time as a form of control over her life. She felt hiding the eating disorder was very easy to do. She stressed to me that it had nothing to do with body image at all, it was all about control.

 

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Sexual Harassment at Schools | AAUW

The American Association of University Women is one of those great organizations dedicated to helping women. They offer annual reports on research that they have conducted, they post insightful  articles, offer scholarship and fellowship funding for young women to attend college and just all around serve as a very credible source of information for women today. Having worked on college campuses for the past 16 years, they were always a source of information for me. Their most recent report is about sexual harassment on high school campuses. Prior to reading the report, I had no idea how prevalent sexual harassment was among high schoolers.  In addition, the report break down the differences between bullying and sexual harassment so that we have a clear understanding of the two and how they differ.  Harassment occurs in all forms; boys harassing girls, boys harassing boys, as well as girls harassing girls. The AAUW also describes  in this report the different forms of harassment that occur today among our youth in detail with proven statistics.  I highly encourage educators of middle school and high school students to read the report.  The more informed we are, the better prepared we become to handle these situations and take care of our youth.

Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at Schools | AAUW.

The Psychology Behind Self-Esteem

When understanding self-esteem, we have to first look at the psychology behind this concept. For this to happen, we must dive into developmental theory, which helps us design a conceptual framework for self-esteem.

For me, Erik Erikson’s (1963) Theory of Psychosocial Development does just that. He chronicled eight phases of human life exploring how physical changes and environment are linked to the development of self and identity.  He proposed the following stages of psychosocial development as occurring during one’s lifespan.

(a) Trust versus Mistrust

(b) Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

(c) Initiative versus Guilt

(d) Industry versus Inferiority

(e) Identity versus Role Confusion

(f) Intimacy versus Isolation

(g) Generativity versus Stagnation

(h) Wisdom versus Despair

When looking at self-esteem, we must look at  the 4th stage of psychosocial development, which Erikson referred to as Industry vs. Inferiority as well as his 5th stage of psychosocial development he termed Identity vs. Role Confusion.

So….stage 4 begins at around age six.  This is the point in their life where your children enter school and learn the appropriate norms within a classroom.  They seek out approval from their peers and well as their teachers.  At this stage, children seek success in the form of good grades, mastering classroom directions and obedience.  Girls usually flourish during this stage academically and often develop a strong sense of self. However, during the later years of stage 4, (about age twelve) is when things get complicated.  At this age, many girls begin puberty and they start to develop more sophisticated views of themselves and the opposite sex. A shift in the way they see themselves and how they relate to one another begins to occur. This leads up to the complexities of stage 5.

Gradually, around the age of thirteen children enter stage five of development. According to Erikson, this is the critical period of development where unfortunately self-esteem declines for most adolescents, especially girls. Your child is now knee-deep in puberty, positioned halfway between childhood and adulthood and confused by the changing way they look, feel and think.  At this point, they are primarily concerned with fitting in with their peers and so they start to move away from mom and dad, stretching their independence. They want to make their own decisions at home. They start questioning the world as well as themselves all the while trying to discover a true sense of self.  In order for healthy self-esteem to grow, it’s important that this independence be permitted (obviously, within reason) and the journey encouraged by mom and dad.

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