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Self-Esteem Q & A

Dear Patti,

Some days I get up and I feel great about myself. My hair looks good, I feel happy about myself, and I'm full of confidence that life is going to turn out fine. Other days my moods take a huge swing - I feel like the biggest loser on the planet and I can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. Am I going crazy? I can't talk to my parents. Pleeeze - help!

T.P. Cal Teen

Dear T.P. Cal,

Don't worry, you are definitely NOT going crazy - you're just suffering from adolescence! This is a time of huge changes in every part of you - your body, your mind, and the way you see the world and yourself. You're right to describe it as a kind of tunnel, because there's no way out except to go forward - and when you come into the light at the other end you'll be making your life decisions for yourself and taking responsibility for all your choices. In other words, you'll be an adult. But the journey from here to there can be a challenging one. One thing that can really help you - in fact, the more of it you have, the better - is self-esteem.

Dear Patti,

When I was little I used to get up every morning with the birds, no problem. In fact, I drove my parents crazy because I would never let them sleep in. Now that I'm a teenager I'm driving them crazy because I want to sleep in. I just can't seem to wake up in the morning. My mom calls me lazy, but I'm not. I play hockey, soccer, and I walk the dog every day. Do you think I could be sick?

Reluctant Sleepyhead

Dear Reluctant,

It's a little known fact of life that teens really do need more sleep. And it's easy to see why. Both your body and your brain are growing faster than at any time since you were a baby - and you know how much babies sleep. What's more, the onset of puberty has let loose all sorts of hormones to go rushing through your body. So it's no wonder you sometimes feel as if you could sleep all day. The fact that you play sports and walk the dog shows that you're not lazy. The exercise, and the responsibility, should both do wonders for your self-esteem.

Dear Patti,

Do you ever feel like you're being pushed into making decisions that you're not ready for? A few years ago my biggest decision was whether I wanted the vanilla milkshake or the chocolate when we went to Dairy Queen. Now that I'm in high school I'm faced with so many choices: what course options should I take, what part-time job should I apply for, how should I get my volunteer hours, what college do I want to go to? But how can I choose, when most of the time I feel like I don't even know who I am?

Confused Girl

Dear Confused,

In my answer to Reluctant I pointed out that your brain is growing very fast in your teenage years. As it grows, the way in which it processes information changes. You develop the ability to think about things in an abstract way - not just about today and what you want right now, but about the future and how to plan for it. You may start a part time job, and need to learn how to manage your money. You may have to deal with changes in your personal circumstances, for example if your parents divorce or you move to a new city. These are the kind of events that make us question who we are and what we really want out of life. Tackling these issues can be daunting, even with our bigger, better brains. Something that can really help us cope is a healthy self-esteem.

Dear Patti,

OK, I'll ask the question no one else has asked.

What is this self-esteem you keep mentioning, and why is it so important?

From, Young Giant

Dear Giant,

I thought you'd never ask!

Self-esteem means how we feel about ourselves. People with a healthy self-esteem feel that they are worthwhile human beings who have a right to their place on this earth. They also have a pretty good idea of their own strengths and weaknesses. They don't have to seek approval from others because, on the whole, they like themselves.

Self-esteem has been called a 'social vaccine' that can protect teens against some of the ills of modern life. If you like yourself and think that you deserve to be treated well, you are less likely to bully or be bullied, and less likely to experiment with dangerous drugs or indulge in risky behaviour in an attempt to impress others. Teens with healthy self-esteem are less vulnerable to peer pressure.

A few lucky people are born with naturally healthy self-esteem, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to lose out. With a little effort, we can all build up our psychological fitness. Here are some simple and easy ways to boost your self-esteem:

Take an honest look at yourself - what are you good at? Can you draw well? Are you a whiz at math? Do other people choose you to confide in? Have you got a way with animals or small children? Write down a list of things that you do well. You can also make a list of things that you are not so good at but would like to improve. Think of some practical steps you can take to make improvement a reality - and then do it!

Place a photograph of yourself doing whatever it is that you do best in a place where you can see it every day. The idea behind this is to remind yourself that you have talents and skills that are valued. If art is your thing, you can put up a piece of artwork that really made you proud. If you're into sport, you could hang a medal or certificate.

If you have family and friends who make you feel good, put up photos of yourself doing fun things with them. This will help to remind you of all the people in this world who are glad that you're alive.

Get involved with your community: become a volunteer. This isn't just for your service hours. Studies have shown that people who do things for others like themselves more than people that only do things for themselves.

Mentor a friend. This gives you the chance to hang out, have fun, feel smart, and help others all at the same time. Who could ask for more? And by helping your friend learn a new skill, you're also building their self-esteem.

Dear Patti,

OK, I get it about teen self-esteem - but what am I supposed to do about my parents? How can I have self-esteem when my mom and dad tell me what I'm allowed to wear, supervise my homework, cross-examine me about my friends and what we do when we go out, and basically don't trust me to make any decisions at all? They're suffocating me!

Thanks, Bossed Out

Dear Bossed Out,

It probably seems to you that you're not growing up fast enough. But moms and dads experience time differently. To them, it seems like only yesterday that you were a baby. If they are going to deal successfully with the fact that you're growing up, you will have to help them. Here's some suggestions for how to make the teenage years easier on everyone:

Reassure your parents that your desire to have more freedom and privacy is a normal part of growing up, and not a rejection of them. Tell them that you still love them. They need to hear it.

Until you are legally an adult it is still your parents' duty to set certain limits, but it really helps if you can negotiate those limits with them. If you keep to your part of the bargain by respecting the agreed limits, your parents will be impressed by your maturity and honesty, and may even reward you with more freedom. We all slip up sometimes: we make mistakes, and we break rules. When this happens, be honest and accept the consequences. This will show your parents that you are mature enough to take responsibility for your actions.

Keep the lines of communication open, and keep actively negotiating with your parents about what is acceptable in terms of dress, behaviour, and choice of friends. If you want mom and dad to respect your views, you also have to show respect for theirs. Honest, respectful negotiation can often result in a compromise that everyone can live with.

If you show your parents respect, honesty and accountability, they will respond by respecting you, trusting you, and treating you more like an adult. This will go a long way towards strengthening your self-esteem.

Thoughts for today:

You create your own future. You can make your life whatever you want it to be. It won't always be easy, but a healthy self-esteem will help a lot. If you have a good self-esteem you will be able to speak up for what you want and believe in; you will be able to negotiate with parents, teachers and friends. A person with healthy self-esteem has an excellent chance of making the kinds of choices that will lead to an exciting, fulfilling life.

Connecting with others is good for our self-esteem. No man is an island. Share your story with us. What problems with self-esteem have you experienced? How have you overcome them? What do you do to enhance your self-esteem? Who is your biggest supporter? What are your special talents and skills? How have you managed to negotiate with your parents to get more freedom and responsibility?

We want to hear from you!