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 answer is YES. Below is my interview with an extremely well-adjusted and happy teen named Savannah.
Savannah is a 17-year-old senior in high school. She gets good grades and she’s very competitive with herself. She has joy written all over her face that’s not forced or an act. She thinks it’s important to have goals in life whether big or small. She says that she’s not a very social person, by that she means that she doesn’t really have one strong group of friends she hangs out with at school. She’s never had that one “best friend.” She spends time with many different groups of girls and boys at school depending upon the day, the class or the sport. She said that she feel accepted by her peers, not under pressure, teased or bullied. However, she sometimes wonders if there’s something wrong with her since she doesn’t want to go to the parties on the weekend or talk on the phone for hours. She identifies herself as a daydream. She loves to read 18th-century poetry and literature. She is also a sports lover and successfully plays on her school’s varsity volleyball team. She talked about how she sees many teens trying to please people, not wanting to upset or anger anyone. Always, pleasing teachers and parents and she guesses that many girls want to please boys as well. She doesn’t feel the desire or need to do these things. She thinks about boys, but doesn’t have a boyfriend and doesn’t define herself by a relationship. She seems comfortable and patient in waiting for the right relationship to come along at some point in her life. She defines high self-esteem as just being fully content with self. Meaning, not wishing she had other’s attributes or talents and genuinely being happy for them and their successes. She said that she thinks she’s pretty grounded because she “feels loved” by her parents. She says that her parents always remind her of the important things in life. She thinks a humble upbringing can be very potent, which she feels she has had. Her mom and dad both have blue-collar jobs, they laugh a lot and talk often as a family. She isn’t a fan of the media. She hates their portrayal of teens as being shallow; only caring about cosmetics, clothing and boys, when they do think about other things as well. She volunteers with her mom and has been doing this for about 10 years. It just became part of the landscape which she calls her life. She’s offended that the media never talks about these things in relation to teens. She doesn’t doubt herself, she has extreme curiosity about most things and never sweats the small stuff. She is attending an amazing college in the fall and is well ahead of her time. She can’t wait to travel the world. She wants to see London, Paris and Barcelona, hitting all the key museums and monuments along the way. Savannah is an extremely well-adjusted teen. You just can’t fake this kind of self-esteem.