Another term we could use instead of self-respect would be pride. So what does it mean to have self-respect or pride in oneself?
Teens sometimes have difficulty with the concept of self-respect because they tie it to closely to acceptance by their peers. They truly believe that their friends have their best interest in mind, but sometimes we see that is not always the case. True friends love us for who we are, help us through difficult times, and even talk us out of making mistakes. They would never put us in harms way for the sake of popularity or make us the butt of a joke for a cheap laugh. Sometimes teens confuse authentic friendships as well as intimate relationships with those that can actually be quite damaging. If you ask a teen to define self-respect, most of them can. However, they have a difficult time turning those words into action. They don’t understand what self-respect looks like in practice or action. In my book, Girl Talk, I talk to teens about their views on self-respect, what it really is and where they think they themselves or other teens go wrong in relation to this concept. Also, I explore and provide teens as well as parents with concrete examples of authentic relationships, healthy self-respect in action and ways to improve it.
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 of self-esteem. We need to challenge their thinking and offer them ways of approaching self-esteem internally. To focus inward 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.
My interview with a victim of teen dating violence.
Georgia is 16 years olds; into image, popularity and being cool. She told me that she is probably considered a bully, but she “only speaks the truth to freshman and sophomore.” She sees herself as helping them fit in better, which means conforming to the culture at this particular school. She said that the only way to survive is to bully or you become the bullied. Never show weakness is her motto. She has an identified clique that she hangs out with and they police each other heavily on what they say, dress, who they date, and where they go to “be seen.” She doesn’t hang out with ugly people and only dates the popular boys. She likes to portray an air of confidence everywhere she goes. She says that she will never admit that she’s not good at everything. She says that her mom is definitely a tiger mom and that she is tough on her. Her mom is her role model. Her friends are tough on her as well, but she expects that because she is hard on them. She said that she judges people all the time and assumes they judge her as well. In her words “it’s part of life.” We talked about how eating disorder are common among the girls she knows and how her best friend suffers from depression. She told me that she sees a therapist weekly and began to explain her situation. This is when she became very real to me in the interview and allowed herself to be vulnerable. She talked about dating violence and how she was dating someone for 8 months that was abusive. She said that her therapist encourages her to talk about it now because her experience doesn’t define her, it’s simply something that happened to her. Apparently, he was a popular boy at another school and they quickly became the “it couple.” She says that peer pressure really made her date him, but quickly image and perception made her stay. She never told anyone that he was abusive because she was embarrassed and didn’t want her friends to know that things weren’t perfect. So, she stayed in the relationship and told her friends that everything was great. The first time the abuse occurred, he pushed her down a flight of stairs. She told herself that it was a fluke/an accident because she was in shock by the situation and he apologized. He would follow the typical cycle of verbal and physical abuse then apologize profusely with gifts and flowers so she forgave him over and over. The last straw was when he held a broken bottle to her face for no reason. She said that she went numb, “died a little” and can’t remember much of what happened next. She called her mom to come get her and finally told her about the abuse. Her mom blames herself for not paying closer attention to the relationship and Georgia is still recovering. Her self-esteem has been hit a very big blow, but she is slowly on the mend. She still gets scared if a boy shows interest in her, but she feels that therapy is helping. She worries that maybe violence is what her future holds for her in relation to dating. This situation has completely skewed how she sees boys. Right now, she is completely confused by what a healthy relationship looks like.