The Tightrope of Self Esteem

I am making my debut on one of my favorite sites today, Mamalode, discussing managing my daughters’ self esteem.

I find it hard to find the right balance of encouragement and honesty with my girls. It becomes particularly difficult during a fashion stand off. On one hand, I want them to feel empowered and loved, and on the other hand, I want to be honest and helpful.

And sometimes you just have to tell a girl she looks ridiculous. You know, the girlfriend rule.

Thanks for reading.

THE TIGHTROPE OF SELF ESTEEM

The small-framed tween girl slides to a stop in her sock-clad feet directly in front of me.

“Ta-da,” she sings, using jazz hands as her chocolate eyes dance with excitement.

“You can’t wear that to school,” I respond too quickly.

“Why not? I think I look awesome.”

“It doesn’t look right,” I declare. The words spew out of my mouth like bullets, and I instantly want to siphon them back in as I watch my daughter flinch. “I mean, you are not supposed to wear it that way.”

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3 Ways I’m Changing My Daughters’ Measurements

“My sister wants her thigh gap to be three inches,” I heard a small voice say from the back seat of my minivan a few year’s back.

I quickly checked my rearview mirror to assess my daughters’ reaction to this comment made by a sweet third grader I was taking to the movies.

“What’s a thigh gap? Mom, do you have a thigh gap? Do I have one?” my seven-year-old asked.

Trying to sound upbeat while trying not to drive off the road, I responded: “It’s a space between your legs. Some people have it, and others don’t. It all depends on how your body is. You can’t really control it. So, are we going to get the popcorn pack or the pretzel at the movies today?”

I successfully changed the subject, but I knew from that day forward I needed to be more proactive in talking to my girls about weighty issues. The war started, and the first strike came unknowingly from a little girl with a 16-year-old sister.

But as my girls grow up, I am seeing there are more and more measurements that can bring them down. And I’m finding the best defense is a good offense, so here are three measurements I’m talking about with my girls:

3 WAYS I'M CHANGING MY DAUGHTERS' MEASUREMENTS

1. Social Media Sanity: I am starting to believe that there is no greater damage that can impact a young person’s self-esteem than participating in social media.  Girls often gain a false sense of accomplishment, or even power, from accumulating followers, likes or comments on social media, using these numbers as a barometer of their social status. On the CNN documentary “Being 13,” one student in the study admitted she takes 100 selfies a day to get one she likes well enough to post.

Conversely, when a post or photo is not well-received, or when a teen is excluded online (such as not being tagged in a picture or finding out their friends are at an event they were not invited), this often perpetuates feelings of insecurity.  While we all have experienced the feeling of being left out, social media now offers proof.

While limiting and monitoring social media is critical, most damage often happens when young girls “lurk” online, trolling friends’ activities without any context. Parents cannot underestimate the power of discussing social media with their children — without judgment. Whether we like it or not, social media is a part of teen culture, and unless you chain your child to their bed, they will see it. Topics should include how does it feel when someone comments on your photo or, does it ever feel bad when you check your social media accounts? Most teens cannot connect the dots that it is social media that is making them feel depressed, so it’s our job to talk them through it.

A friend recently told her 13-year-old daughter to use social media to make relationships she already had stronger, therefore only accept friend requests from people she knew well. If anyone messaged her about why she didn’t connect with them, she was to blame her “mean” mom for overseeing her account. The result is a young girl who is surrounded (mostly) by positivity as opposed to a teen seeking approval. While this is not a realistic option for everyone, it is a good way to get a young girl’s feet wet when it comes to social media.

2. Tip the Scales. I was in eighth grade the first time I realized I weighed 20 pounds more than my best friend, despite the fact we were about the same height. Now I realize it was because I was exiting puberty while she was just starting, but I remember the exact moment and feeling awkward about it. I also recall trying not to clean my plate at dinner that night.

We all know it’s important for girls to be healthy, not skinny, but teens today get barraged with images of women with “perfect” bodies. The average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day, says Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University. Who do you think the kid is going to listen to?

Both moms and dads need to have a dialogue with daughters about weight and body image.  The discussion should include how most photos in the media are unrealistic and untrue, such as airbrushed tummies, elongated legs, and hidden blemishes. See what your daughter has to say about a woman you see on a magazine cover or a model in an advertisement. Ask if she would change anything about her appearance. Most parents are surprised to hear that their child would rather look like an “ideal” instead of themselves.

And it’s important to remember that the number one role model for daughters is her mother. This means it’s not enough to try to avoid negatively discussing our bodies; instead, we need to make sure we discuss what we like about ourselves, too.

3. Weight of the GPA. My nine-year-old daughter acted jumpy last week when handing me three tests she needed signed. I glanced at the top of each and saw she achieved the Common Core grading of “I,” which meant she mastered each lesson. I stopped on her math test when I saw she missed three questions. As I flipped to the back of her test, she burst out in tears and cried, “I’m sorry Mommy, I forgot to go back and check my work like you told me to.”

If I’m being honest, I was a little frustrated. Leaving a question blank is just silly, but then I remembered she is nine, and she proved she understood what she learned, so I backed off. Clearly we were both putting a little too much pressure on her regarding her grades.

I was shocked recently when I read that research has shown there is a clear correlation between grades and suicide risk. Sixteen-year-old students with the lowest grades are three times more likely to commit suicide than those at the top of the class.  This is not all surprising when we look at the combined pressures parents and the U.S. education system put on our kids.

While I believe working hard in school and trying to get good grades is important,  particularly in today’s competitive college admissions environment, it is imperative to communicate to our children that someone who gets more A’s is not more worthy than someone who gets B’s or God forbid, a C. Achieving good grades does not ensure a good life any more than one bad grade deems someone as a bad person. As parents, we cannot expect young minds to know the difference.

How do I want my girls to measure their worth?

I try to tell my girls to remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so work on building your brain and growing your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

What I Want My Kids to Know About Cell Phones

When my kids were younger, the thought of providing them with cell phones terrified me. It seemed that all the world’s evils were wrapped up in one pretty iPhone case. Sexters, cyberbullies and online predators could attack my babies with just the click of a button.

Eighty-five percent of kids ages ten to seventeen either own or have access to a smart phone and nearly 25 percent say the are “cell-mostly” Internet users.  My oldest two are approaching eleven years old, and while I am not in a rush to furnish them with their own phones, many of their friends already possess one. I want — I need — to be sure they understand the risks that come with unfettered access to texting and the wild, wild Web.

To quash my fears, I became educated about Internet safety, and developed a  plan for monitoring their online behavior and use. And although I do not have any delusions of grandeur that I can keep pace with the constantly evolving methods people are using cell phones and social media to prey on our children, I hope to keep the bad guys out of our wireless world.

I’ve talked a lot with my kids about the responsibilities that come with owning a cell phone or access to the Internet when I’m not there to monitor. Stranger danger applies both in the real world and the online one. I showed them how an innocent personal photo could end up on a dangerous web site. I demonstrated how “privacy” settings don’t really make things private.

But lately I have noticed that there are a new set of dangers that come when a child walks around with his own phone. The problems may not be physical or unlawful, but I do believe they can have a lasting effect on their social well-being.

Here’s what I want my kids to know about cell phones:

iPhones are not for validation. Life is not measured in how many likes you have on Instagram or followers on Twitter.  And all the “friends” you have on SnapChat will never fill the void in your soul. Make sure that the “self” in selfies does not impact your self-worth. Always remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so build your brain and grow your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

Don’t disconnect. I am the first to admit that I often whip out my cell phone when I am waiting to pick up my kids or in a room full of people I don’t know. Unfortunately, tweens and teens are now doing the same thing, except at every opportunity. Instead of bonding with teammates, boys are texting on their phones during water breaks. Instead of chatting with their girlfriends before a movie starts, the group is checking Facebook. Cell phones are for connecting with people, not for using it to avoid conversation.

Every text is an opportunity to be mis-interpreted. The average teen girl receives around five calls on her cell phone per day and 100 texts. That is 3,000 per month! Although most are innocuous messages and chatter, many kids use texting because it is easier, faster and makes them feel less uncomfortable. That is code for lacking the courage or fortitude to have a difficult conversation.

When young people type instead of speak, they lose the opportunity to develop important interpersonal skills, such as reasoning, problem-solving and yes, even compassion. Those on the receiving end of a text, often teens experiencing insecurity or trying to fit into a social clique, often misinterpret a message without any visual or audio cues in which to guide the intent.

The net-net is people often use text messages to avoid a mess, but learning how to fix a mess is a lesson we want all young people to learn. The pain and discomfort that comes with learning how to communicate — really communicate —with others is what leads to better relationships. So use the phone, not your fingers, to get your point across to the people who matter in your life.

Privacy means different things to everyone. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that manages impulse control is not fully formed until our twenties. That means even your BFF can have poor judgment or make the mistake of forwarding a private text or photo merely by hitting the wrong button.   My mantra is if you would not walk into the lunchroom and shout it out, don’t ever text or share it on social media. Your “friends” list will not adhere to the same standards of discretion about your life as you expect, particularly when hitting the forward key is so simple.

Cell phones are for personal use, not to shame others. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture posted on Facebook of an overweight girl’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you or recording a schoolyard brawl only to post it on YouTube for entertainment.

But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures and videos live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule because you couldn’t keep your cell phone in your pant’s pocket.

Don’t be so busy taking a photo of a stranger to not notice when someone is in need of help.

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The “Firsts” that Come with the Tween Years

In motherhood, there are so many “firsts” that take your breath away. That first time your baby laughs. The first steps a toddler takes to your outstretched arms. The first time your son takes the school bus or your daughter learns how to ride a bike. When I reflect on these moments my heart feels full.

As our kids grow, the “firsts” come less frequently and the time stretched between them lengthen. Instead of celebrating a new milestone, the goal becomes surviving another Monday shuttling your kids to piano, soccer, the library and Tae Kwan Do while serving something edible for dinner in a Tupperware container that is BPA-free, of course. #winning.

And then, out of nowhere, another first occurs. Except this time it doesn’t involve the potty, or school, or sleeping through the night in her very first big girl bed. Instead, it’s the first time your child rips your heart out, tears it to shreds, stomps all over it, and kicks it to the side for good measure.

We worry about what a child will become

Let me explain.

Last night, I shared with my daughter what I thought would be some great news. She was asked to take a placement test for accelerated math. Exciting, right?

My daughter felt differently. She did not want to take this test, and felt that the class would be too difficult for her. She felt challenged enough, and did not want the additional work. Of course I explained to her that she could do anything she put her mind to, and that we could discuss the options after she took the test, but she would have none of it. I continued my lecture. She held her ground.

That’s when she said it.

“I do not want to talk to YOU about this. I do not want to talk to you EVER,” she said flatly.

Ouch.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either. I was shocked, dumbfounded, stunned. I felt like she just slapped me across the face. I asked her if she was sure if she meant it and she nodded her head in the affirmative.

I then told her very maturely, “Well, that can be arranged.” I rose up from my seat, turned on my heel with my head up high and marched myself right out of the room.

It took me about 17 steps before I could feel the tears well up in my eyes as I started the dinner dishes. This was not the relationship I have worked so hard to maintain with my daughters. This was not supposed to happen to me. Maybe other moms who didn’t work so hard at communication, but not me. I was focused on being open and honest with my girls, I used understanding tones and tried not to yell (a lot), I worked hard at being the compassionate mother who “gets it.” Although I ran my house in a sort of dictator-like fashion, my husband and I always worked hard at listening to our kids and ensuring they felt like their opinions mattered.

But we went off the rails. She just gave me the proverbial middle finger and I did the equivalent of the teenage door slam. It may not have been as dramatic as the “I hate you’s” or other verbal barbs that young girls spear throw at their mothers, but to me, well let’s just say it rattled my cage.

I know what you are thinking. This isn’t that big of a deal, and it really isn’t. But it did mark a major milestone in our house. This was the first time one of my daughters openly challenged me about a life decision. It was the first time that she lashed out in a way that was not a tantrum. It was the first time that she strategically struck me in the jugular — she hit me exactly where she knew it would hurt. And it did.

A few minutes later I called my husband. Knowing that I was exhausted from a busy weekend, I told him what happened in between saying things like, “I know I am just being sensitive” and “I think I’m just tired.” He (thankfully) agreed that while neither of us thought she completely understood what she was saying, we also needed to teach her a lesson. We both feel that it’s important to ensure our children understand that both words and actions matter, so we devised a plan.

It was simple. If she did not want to talk to me, I would simply follow her wishes. I would ignore her until she apologized (without prompting) even if that meant she did not go to bed or to school the next day. She launched the first cannon, but I was going to win the war, or at least this particular battle.

I immediately put my plan into action. I walked right by her as she sat on the couch with her sisters playing Minecraft and ignored her. Although she didn’t even look up, I felt like my attitude spoke volumes. I went up to my room and ignored the heck out of her for approximately 18 minutes.

That’s when I heard my youngest ask for her turn on the iPad, and a few seconds later there was a knock on my door.

“Mom, I’m really sorry I said I didn’t want to talk to you anymore. I didn’t mean it,” my daughter softly said to me.

As I tried to tell her that I only wished she saw all the intelligence and talent and beauty in herself that her teachers and friends and father and I can see, the tears started flowing uncontrollably out of my eyes.

And that’s when another milestone happened. My daughter rushed over to me, threw her arms around my neck, and for the first time, she put MY heart back together.

As we held each other silently for what simultaneously felt like an instant and an eternity, I knew our relationship changed. In one moment, we both saw each other at our worst and then at our best. I was still her mommy — the one who kissed her forehead each night and made sure her blankie was within reach — but I also had to accept she was growing up.

She wanted some power and control over her life, and in her own way, she was asking me to hand it over. And in order to not lose her, in order to keep her close, I had to oblige. “I want you to take the test, but the ultimate decision on whether you participate in the class will be up to you; however, you’ll have to discuss it with Dad and I, and meet the teacher.”

“That sounds fair, Mom. I’m good with that,” she said. And then, as if to remind me that she still needed me, she kissed me on the cheek and skipped out of my room. My heart felt full again.

I am not so naive to believe that this won’t be the first of many “challenges” I have with my tweenage daughter and I know that that the issues ahead of us will grow in size and scope. However, I am hopeful that we both learned a little bit more about each other, and we remember more about putting the pieces back together than tearing them apart.

And I need to get my big girl panties on, because this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Did you enjoy this post or the things you read on Playdates on Fridays? Please make sure you like and share on Facebook and Twitter to make sure no one else misses a playdate! Or feel free to sign up for email notifications of new posts to the right. I never sell or spam, and only post one to two times a week, unless my kids drive me extra crazy, in which I may have a bonus post just to keep my sanity in check. Thanks for visiting.

 

 

How NOT to Raise a Bystander

Bullying. Mean girls. Aggressive behavior.

It’s the terms du jour right now, and everyone has an opinion on it. Some parents think it is just part of life, and others believe it is crushing our kids.

I think it just sucks.

Unfortunately, I do think bullying and mean behavior will never go away; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying.

Recently in response to an article I wrote about BS Excuses Parents Give for Mean Girls, someone commented that the incident between a seventh grade girl and a group that ostracized her could have been diffused if one brave student had stepped in to intervene on her behalf. One brave student acknowledging the behavior or getting up to sit with the girl left alone could have sent a powerful message to the “group.”

This got me thinking. While I put the onus on being a brave parent, I didn’t continue to connect the dots…one brave parent can create brave kids. Brave kids make good things happen.

A few years back all three of my girls were having sleep overs at our house with good friends. While they were eating their pizza, some of the older kids started discussing how they knew a girl who lied a lot. The conversation started getting really mean-spirited, so just as I was about to intervene, a little voice piped up and said, “That girl is my neighbor. I know her, and she isn’t lying about those things and I think it’s mean for you to say that.”

BAM! That little six-year-old pip squeak shut it down. It was very brave of her and I admired her courage to stand up for her friend despite being the youngest in the group.

Recent efforts to combat bullying have been focused on the role of bystanders.  Some research even estimates that fifty percent of all bullying events stop when a bystander decides to intervene. Unfortunately, 88 percent of the time bullying happens in front of other kids, but only one in five kids will intervene.

Ugh.

It’s a tough call as a parent. I worry about my child’s safety, but I also want them to stand up for what’s right, and especially for those that can’t stand up for themselves. But standing up to someone who is seen as either more popular or more powerful is a pretty big ask of a kid.

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And it’s not just kids that face this problem. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered despite the fact that dozens of witnesses heard the attack. Psychologists called this the Genovese Syndrome or Bystander Effect. Simply put, as the number of witnesses to a crime increases, the chance that anyone will intervene goes down. Most people assume that someone else will help, and it ends up that no one does.

Famed novelist and juvenile protection advocate Andrew Vachss said this: “Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.

Someone has got to fight back.

Most kids want to do the right thing, but aren’t sure how to do it. According to Ken Rigby, author of Children and Bullying: How Parents and Educators Can Reduce Bullying at School  you should start a discussion with your child, but don’t push too hard.“Parents should not tell their children what to do as a bystander. Instead, they should listen to their children and ask them what they would do in certain situations — sort of wondering out loud, to spark a conversation.”

So how do we encourage our kids not to be bystanders yet remain safe? Here are a few tips:

+ Don’t join in.  Yeah, this is easier than it sounds otherwise the term “mob mentality” wouldn’t be used so regularly.  Make sure your child knows that laughing at or encouraging mean behavior is as bad as doing it. And simply by watching it happen is subliminally telling the bully that it is okay.

Take away the attention. Some kids are bullies merely to get attention or make their friends laugh. Encourage your child to walk away (and bring her friends) from a situation where one kid is picking on another. Merely taking away the audience can often stop an incident. If they say something sarcastic like “There’s nothing to see here” even better.

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Reporting is not tattling. Encourage your child to report bullying incidents to a trusted adult. If they are worried about being viewed as a tattle-tale or ratting out their friends, encourage them to do it anonymously. Another option is to give teachers, coaches, etc. a heads up that bad things are happening without giving specifics. For example: “You should watch the girls locker room after fifth period, but please don’t mention that I told you.”

Some studies have shown that kids do not believe their teachers or other adults will do anything about the bullying incidents. Encourage your child to continue to report to other adults and build a case documenting the situation because at the end of the day, they could eventually be a witness to a crime and not just poor behavior.

+ Bullying is not private. Some research states that kids do not get involved with bullying incidents between other children because they believe it is none of their business. Stress that if another child is being threatened physically or verbally, it is not private and someone should step in. Also, encourage empathy by talking to your child about how he or she would feel if they were the target of bullying and no one intervened.

Stick up for victims, but not directly. Sometimes sticking up for the bullying victim can make the situation worse. For example, a girl defending a boy or a younger kid stopping an incident for an older kid can further increase the teasing a victim receives. Encourage your child to step in but they don’t have to defend the person. A simple, “Hey, the teacher wants to see you” then leading the victim away can change the course of an event.

+ Physical altercations should never be ignored. Kids should assess the situation and determine whether he or she should get an adult or try to distract the bully. Sometimes a loud, “Hey, what are you doing” can be enough to diffuse a situation; however discourage your child from intervening physically.

Safety in numbers. Bullies often target those they think are weaker or a kid they feel is a loner. Sometimes the best way to prevent bullying is to be a friend to a potential target. This could be as simple as walking to class together, sitting with them at lunch or hanging out before school.

Not sure how to talk to your son or daughter about bystander behavior? Visit Reachout.org for more information. ReachOut is an information and support service that uses evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults who are facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues. All content is written by teens and young adults, for teens and young adults, to meet them where they are, and help them recognize their own strengths in order to overcome their difficulties and/or seek help if necessary. The Inspire USA Foundation oversees ReachOut.

 

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