Thursday, March 8, 2012

Am I Ugly

 Watch and then we'll talk.

 This is not a new question teenage girls, and probably boys for that matter, ask. But in the old days, we just asked it of ourselves in the mirror.  We would certainly have never put it to the test to ask our friends, or the random people that troll youtube. Maybe we would have asked our parents, cause we knew we would have gotten a resounding NO are you kidding you are the most handsome or beauteous in the world. In in that moment we might have even believed them.

How sad is it that these girls, feeling so needy for affirmation, put this out to the crazies who watch youtube. They hope against hope that someone will tell them that all their pubescent worries are for naught and that they are not the ugly, fat teen that they think they see in the mirror everyday.

I was having a conversation with my 28 year old daughter today, reminiscing about her 13 year old pleasantly plump, short not yet having her growth spurt, self.  She talked about how uncomfortable she felt in her own skin back then, and how insecure she felt with her friends.  But when she was doing what she loved and what she felt passionate about in those years, that self-loathing and self-conscious, needy side disappeared, and a confident, funny, open-hearted young girl emerged. We remarked how good it was that she had something so positive in her life that could counteract those sometimes unbearable feelings of early adolescence.

The theoretical term for that thing you do that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside is called self-efficacy. We all need something that we feel good at, especially during the early teen years when so much else feels not so good. Having a special skill or talent to feel proud of can fight against those feelings that those girls who post on youtube are experiencing. Helping your teen to find that area of specialness is crucial to maintain the self-esteem that is threatened on a daily basis.

Maybe you have a teen who hasn't found that specialness yet, and is hyper-focused on her/his physical self, and all the things they hate about themselves.  Maybe they aren't the sports kid, or the music kid, or the theater kid, and you are stumped about what would make them feel good about themselves. I was working with a parent recently whose 12 year old fit this profile. I asked this mom, whose daughter is an only child of a single parent, whether her daughter liked playing with younger children, and she nodded her head, yes she does, she loves her little cousins. I suggested perhaps looking for a day care center kind of set-up where she might do this as a volunteer. Mom asked her daughter who was very enthusiastic about the idea. Mom checked out her local YMCA. They indeed had such a Saturday program for toddlers and did use volunteers. This 12 year old, somewhat shy insecure preteen, rose to the occasion, filling out a complicated application. She had to find references to vouch for her, and go on an interview. She jumped through every hoop, with enthusiasm, and felt such pride in her acceptance. It has been a wonderful lesson on "self-efficacy" and building self-esteem, not from how you look, but what you do!

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