Thought for the Day--April 26, 2011: Fostering Self-esteem in Teens

Jennifer Semple, age 16, 1966

Reverse of the above photograph
_____________________________
Oh the innocent girl in her maiden teens knows perfectly well what everything means.
--D. H. Lawrence
Very few people like their school photographs, but I was absolutely floored when I ran across the above photo. As photos go, it's no better or worse than any other high school photo, but the message of self-loathing on its reverse really saddens me, for it reminds me how troubled I was as a teen.

Context: I was planning to send this photo to Hans, a German penpal, but I must have thought better of it (or, perhaps, he did send it back--I don't remember--if so, then shame on him). The text on the reverse:
Hans,

I know this photo is absolutely shocking, Please bear with it: It's awful, & I look like a blimp in it, & if you don't like it, send it back.

Tell me if you don't like it.
Bless my late grandmother Mo (or Moo), who made this notation:
Cute Moo
I'm sure that was her attempt to make me feel a bit better about myself.

Of course, I was hardly the first teen to express such negative feelings or to be troubled, but this is a reminder to parents and grandparents that they should instill appropriate positive feelings in their children before they become teens. That doesn't mean that you should pander to them or over-praise them about their minor accomplishments, but just to let them know that they are loved, no matter what.

My grandparents (who raised me) did their best to make sure I was taken care of, but I don't think they realized how unhappy I was.

However, the signs were there:
--My weight yo-yo'ed. During my four years of high school, I, at 5'4", weighed anywhere from 130 to 160. The lowest weight was achieved through a starvation diet. More than once, I nearly passed out at school, and, once, I was even sent home. At my highest weight, I was bingeing (sneak eating).

--I cut a lot of school.

--I didn't work to my full potential (although my grades were still fairly decent).

--I spent a lot of time in my room, daydreaming and fantasizing about unlikely occurrences, such as marrying George Harrison (Beatle). Had the internet been available, I would have been on it constantly.

--I was moody, often yelling at and arguing with my grandparents, probably beyond the typical grouchy teen years.

--I engaged in a lot of magical thinking. For example, I once decided that I would make a wig by using the hair from my brush (I soon figured out that probably would not work, LOL).
I point these symptoms out not because I want pity--I have long since outgrown that phase of my life--but to make parents aware that their children may be depressed and that they may need some kind of therapy.

Another symptom to observe: if your child is very thin and spends a lot of time in the bathroom, she or he might be suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, serious conditions that need immediate intervention and psychotherapy.

Also, if you are a child or teen and are unhappy and/or have a negative body image, please talk to your parents or a trusted adult. Even if you are overweight, underweight, or have any other non-standard physical characteristic, you have value. You should never be defined by your exterior but by your accomplishments. Refuse to buy into the stereotype that a pretty face and body are everything.

If you decide to lose weight (and there are a lot of good health reasons to do so), please choose a healthy diet, such as Weight Watchers or a diet prescribed by your doctor, and do it the right way. That way, you have a better chance of keeping it off throughout your teen and adult years.

Avoid diet pills, prescription or over-the-counter. While diet pills may work for the short run, they stop working after a while and may even result in a rebound effect, which means that once you quit using them, you are hungrier than ever.

There are many reasons why people overeat, some are physical and others are psychological, so this is why it's important to get to the bottom of why you are overeating.

Love yourselves, my cyber friends.

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