A Perfect Relationship isn’t the key to Happiness and Self Worth
Ask Amy: Helping Kids to Feel Complete
By Amy Egan
Although it is now March for those of you reading this article, it is Valentine’s Day as I write – so stories about love are everywhere. Yesterday, included with all of this love talk, there was a little discussion on Facebook of the Twilight book series, and it got me thinking. I have never been a fan of these books, although I have not taken the time to put my finger on just why until I saw the Facebook discussion and the answer finally came to mind. For me, the message throughout the books and movies is: “Your happiness lies in finding just the right person to complete you. Once that finally happens, the true meaning of your life begins and you have become worthy”.
I know that a lot of adults read and adore these books – women, mostly – but what causes my discomfort is the attraction that the series has for young girls. Many preteen and teenage girls are totally absorbed in the books and movies and so are being bombarded by that message: you will be happy and your life will begin when you finally find a boy to complete you.
If you share my perspective, you may wonder just what to do about a child’s desire to read the books. As parents, we do have the option of forbidding our teens from reading the series: but I believe that strategy isn’t that helpful and could easily backfire. After all, our kids live in the midst of a constant barrage of such messages: the media are bursting with the notion that self worth is tied to one’s fortunate involvement in a steamy relationship. Just look at the ads in any teen magazine or the posters plastered on the walls of your tween/teen’s favorite clothing stores.
Wrestling with this can create the feeling of fighting an uphill battle. My mind says: “How can I possibly help my kids, particularly my 12-year-old Twilight-loving daughter, to realize that they cannot be ‘completed’ by an encounter with anyone else: they themselves are responsible for their own completeness?”
After thinking this over last night, I fell back on my training as a parent’s coach and educator. Here are some things I know to be truly helpful in building a child’s self esteem (after all, the ads are a direct attack on self-esteem!).
- Spend a lot more time and energy focusing on the things your child does well than you do on their areas where they need improvement. We (overly-?) conscientious parents tend to dwell on our children’s weaknesses. How many of you have looked at your child’s report card and zeroed in on the lowest grade? You may have dismissed many other higher grades by focusing on the lowest one. My advice to you is to help your child with deciding what to do about the low grades - but to give more attention to the higher ones. It is interesting to watch what happens when you respond to grades this way. Things may not change if your child has a subject or two that is more difficult for him/her – but they might change a lot. Either way, your focus on your child’s strengths will be very helpful in building self worth.
- Spend much of your time and energy focusing on the things your child is passionate about. A kid’s passion is oftentimes a path to that completeness. If your daughter adores chess, regardless of whether she wins big at competitions, support her like crazy! If your son loves drama, even if he doesn’t land the best parts, celebrate his involvement. Fulfilling passions leads to contentment and feelings of our own completeness.
- Instead of preventing your kids from making mistakes, encourage them to try things, allow them to make mistakes, and support them with empathy when they fail, encouraging them to try again. This gives them the message that you have faith in their abilities and judgment.
- Be the kind of parent your children respect. This means being lovingly and firmly in charge, not arguing with them, being consistent and avoiding behaviors that are not respectable. (These include the obvious ones – like drug use, alcohol abuse and infidelity – but also the not-so-obvious behaviors such as frequent screaming and yelling.) A young person who has respect for her/his parents has much higher self-esteem than one who disrespects them.
I believe that even though the media and the world are continually giving our teens the message that finding the perfect relationship is the key to happiness and self-worth, we parents can counter these messages. Our kids may still go through stages when they believe the media stories to be true – but if we as parents focus on our kids’ strengths and passions, allow them to try things even though they may fail, and generate a respectful relationship with them, we will discover that we have given them the means to see through the media and their messages.
~ Good luck and happy parenting!
Amy Egan is a Parenting Consultant and trained Love and Logic Parenting course facilitator. She and her husband are parents to their teenage son and 11 year old daughter. They live in Allen, TX. If you have a question about teens or tweens for Amy, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.