Anyone who survived the peer pressures of puberty can sympathize with the demands popular culture puts on our teens. While mom and dad can relax in the joys of the simple life, teens still feel they have to perform to be accepted by society and be happy with themselves. However, with a little help and guidance from you the parent, your teen can have a strong sense of self-esteem and life purpose.
No Thank You MTV
Depending on the foundation of trust and understanding you have built with your teen, you may be able to have a sit-down talk about the unrealistic expectations of popular culture. You can find plenty of candid interviews with celebrities who say, “I wish people would just accept me for who I am,” or child prodigies who say, “I just want to be like everyone else.” Our society pays high premiums for girls with the right curves and guys who can flex. Your child must know that he or she matters to you first, not because of sports performance or school achievements, but because he or she is a real person.
Praise what Matters Most
While it comes spontaneous for a parent to praise their child with things like, “You look sharp, Son,” or “Honey, you are so beautiful,” these statements do not add up to much. Praise for features only gives a good feeling for a moment. However, praise for values builds character. For example, in the same situation you could build character by saying, “Son, I appreciate that you take time to make yourself look respectable, I’m proud of how responsible you are.” And the pretty daughter could be told, “You know I think you are beautiful, but I am even more amazed at your sweet attitude that you don’t try to show off or make others feel like they are less than you.” Practice this logic once a day and watch the depth of communication you open up with your children as they realize you do not just care about externals.
Create a Healthy Atmosphere
One of the best confidence builders is success. Successful people brag a lot less that wannabes. Insecure children brag about themselves or criticize others continuously. Get your teen involved in the garden. See if he can find his nitch in growing things. This gives him responsibility and a sense of accomplishment, too. Or introduce your teen to animals. Many “wild girls” have been saved from an identity crisis by getting into the world of horse showmanship. Just the simple ethic of involvement and self-discipline go miles in producing a teen who does not feel they have to be a centerfold to be accepted in society. Boy Scouts, church activities, part-time apprenticeships, and many other creative venues offer your teen a chance to explore life without having to be a beach babe or long-haired skater.
Stabilize Your Own Identity
On an airplane, the attendant gets up and demonstrates what to do in the rare event of losing air pressure: take an oxygen mask for yourself first, then help the children. Sometimes we parents get the order wrong. We want to help the children and we haven’t even caught our breath yet. If I am insecure, my children will be insecure. If I hate my body, they will hate theirs (although it takes them longer to manifest these symptoms). However, if a parent has found depth and meaning to life, this lifestyle becomes contagious. Make sure you are not still trying to keep up with Chuck Norris or Jane Fonda to achieve that perfect you. While you do not want to accept or excuse bad habits, know who you are and stop the self-deprecation.
Involve your teen in good eating habits and a healthy exercise routine, and let them know they do not have to perform to win your love.