What your teen hears from others may be less dangerous for him or her than what they tell themselves. I'm talking about lies they tell themselves without even knowing they're doing it.
As parents, we're worried about what other kids say to our kids – especially on social media. Bullying on social media as well as in person is every parent's dread.
But what about the "bully" in the mind of our kids?
It's generally known that teens are struggling to figure out who they are, what's important to them and how they fit into the world. But what they think of themselves versus who they actually are can be incredibly self-damaging. This summary of possible dangerous thoughts is the most concise I've ever ever seen. I found it on a family-first website called "All Pro Dad."
Without meaning to, we parents may be contributing to that internal bully – we encourage our kids to be their "best selves" and get good grades. Do we cringe at B's? Or do we "lose it" over C's? Are we angry when our kid misses a pass or lets a goal in? What if they sing a wrong note in their solo? What if they're home on a Friday night instead of going to the football game?
Even if they act like it doesn't matter, our kids already know they want to get good grades, perform well in their sport or activity and have a fun social life where they feel valued and loved for the person they are. They really don't need us to tell them.
But what if the conflict within our child isn’t merely about achieving? What if they can't accept the person they are? Why CAN'T they accept the person they are?
All Pro Dad has written a list of "lies" teens believe about themselves. The site cautions that not ALL teens think this way, but many do. The site has written two lists of lies - one for girls and one for boys.
Here are the "lies" girls convince themselves are true – I'm summarizing only a portion of the writing, so I encourage you to click on the link to read the sections in their entirety to understand what may be going through your daughter's mind. (Link: Dangerous Lies Teen Girls Believe).
1. "I need to look a certain way to be loved." Our media culture has expanded on what it means to be beautiful in our culture, and immature boys glom on to this further perpetuating the idea that looking a certain way is all that matters. Girls believe "If I am myself, others won't like me. If others know the truth about me, I'll be rejected. I'm not pretty. I'm not good at anything."
2. My self-worth depends on the approval or attention of others." When faced with disapproval or lack of attention, she ceases to feel good about herself. "I'm unimportant. I'm not valuable. I must meet certain standards to feel good about myself."
3. "I'm ruined." If a girl believes she has failed in any way (morally, academically, socially, athletically, etc.), she may see herself as damaged goods with no hope for recovery or wholeness – she is flooded with guilt and shame. "Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished. It doesn't matter what I do anymore."
Boys have a set of their own "lies" they may believe as well. Again, I'm only summarizing, so please see the link for the full writing. (Link: Dangerous Lies Teen Boys Believe)
1. "My Value Is Based On My Achievements." They believe they are only as good as their last game, grade, compliment or trophy. If a boy buys into this, he faces anxiety every day. He will constantly compare himself to others and never feel good enough.
2. "Losing My Virginity Will Make Me A Man." Looked upon as a rite of passage, boys who believe this lose the beauty of relating to another person – damaging their own emotions and those of their partner.
3. "I Need To Have It All Together." They believe they should have all of the answers and not have any struggles. To not be able to do this shows weakness, they believe. Unwittingly, teachers, coaches and parents add to this pressure. Emotional maturity and growth can be stunted because the boy feels he must present the "face" of this unreality as opposed to working through it.
4. "The Value Of A Man Is His Net Worth." Our culture defines a man as "successful" when he makes a lot of money. But believing only this may lead a boy to reject doing something he feels passionate about and accept a lower rate of pay, which would make him feel less worthy, in his mind.
So what can we do as parents? To me, the first step is recognizing that our teens may be thinking these things. Asking your teen if they have such thoughts - not telling them they think these things - may get a constructive conversation going. We as parents want to help them consider the thoughts that might run through their minds and validate their fears or concerns without trivializing them. But, they won't want to have ideas foisted on them, even if they think it's true. Be careful in how you present this to them.
An honest conversation affirming your child for who they are at their core is what can help them set their standards for their own core beliefs about themselves. If they openly agree with the "lies" as outlined above, ask your child why they may believe such negative ideas, and ask them if they actually believe they are true. Ask them how they would like to think of themselves. Again, don't tell them the ideas are false. This might sound counter-productive, but the core belief must come from the child, supported by you, not from you. Say you love them for who they are, but let your teen reason out why false ideas are problematic. You just listen. Affirm their fears, not the thoughts themselves. Your child may or may not be ready to begin assessing their core beliefs about themselves - it's very painful. They will need time and space to change these perceptions and your loving support may help them to beleive that they can think of themselves differently than these negative messages.
Core beliefs are the unshakeable truths people know about who they are – and if those are distorted, the young person will eventually become consumed by them. They may be able to put on a show that they are successful and confident without actually believing in themselves. Establishing this core sense of belief is critical to a young person's self value.
The other thing to consider is, are we as parents supporting these erroneous ideals for our children without realizing it? It's a fine line, to be sure. This will surely damage the child's core set of beliefs.
Our family lives in a beautiful area of high-achieving people. There are many wonderful things about living here that I like. Good schools with excellent teachers and support staff, enough funds from taxes to make our public facilities exceptional (because the high-earning residents can afford to pay the taxes), opportunities through school and other outlets for kids to experience playing sports or performing in the arts. It's a caring, intelligent community base of many people with leadership abilities, both in our public sector and at our places of worship.
However, if our young people cannot enjoy these amenities, support and "picture-perfect" environment without feeling that they can't measure up to the oppressive demands of their surroundings, then we have failed as a community.
All is not lost. Recognizing that our teens may have these false beliefs about themselves and seeing what role we as parents may play in them is critical to the emotional success of our children.
It's likely I'll have more to share from "All Pro Dad." I especially like that this web site supports how fathers can be the ones who provide emotional support to their children because it's typically a mother's realm. It's critical for men who are fathers to see themselves this way for the well being of their children.
For now, some soul-searching about the messages we convey to our own children as well as what they believe about themselves is a start.
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