Junior High is the worst. If you paid me all the money in the world, I’m pretty sure there is no way that I would travel back in time to my adolescent self. I probably cried or had hurt feelings more during these 3 grades of school than in all my other years combined. I recently heard from my favorite 13 year old that some 7th grade boys thought it would be fun to rank the girls in their class based on looks. Of course, the list has spread and now each of these young ladies know how she ranks and how she compares to her friends according to the boys. You would hope that the girls would band together and give the boys a piece of their minds. You would hope that the girls would be secure enough in themselves to not let this bother them. Of course, you’d be an idiot to think that any of these scenarios are actually occurring. What is happening is that the girls that didn’t make it to the top of the list are devastated, wondering what they can do to improve themselves, wondering what it is they are lacking. The girls that did make it to the top are suddenly finding that other girls no longer want to be friends with them. They are now viewed as the competition and are being called “stuck up” or worse. Friendships are being destroyed. Self-esteems are being ruined. These feelings don’t go away. I wish that somehow we could teach these kids that they give their power away when they allow the opinion of others to dictate how they feel about themselves.
I also think about my time as a first grade teacher. First graders are still so tiny, usually only 6 or 7 years old. We expect so much from these little guys. Sitting still for longer than 5 minutes is extremely hard for most of them, yet we still expect for these sweet babies to read and write at a certain level. They are graded based on how they compare to a standard, a list if you will. Teachers try not to make this a big deal, but the kids are smart and they know. They know how they measure up based on their reading group. They know how many kids are reading better than they are, and they know how many, if any, are reading below them. I’ve seen them, year after year, start to judge themselves based on this list. As a teacher, this was heartbreaking. I wish that somehow we could teach our children that their intelligence is not based on a number, that they are wonderful and perfect just the way that they are. I wish that somehow we could teach these kids that they give their power away when they allow the opinion of others to dictate how they feel about themselves.
I reflect on my time as an adult. Surely, by now, I should know how I stopped giving my power away. Surely, by now, I am secure in who I am as a person. Am I? If I look back on myself as a 25 year old, absolutely not. I was married to a man that did not love me, pretending to be blissfully happy. The opinion of others still had power over me. If I look back on myself as a 30 year old, nope. Better, but still struggling. I felt it was important to live on “this” side of town, that I needed a certain kind of purse, that I needed a certain kind of shoe, that I needed a certain kind of car. The opinion of others still had power over me. As I look at myself now as a 37 year old, not quite. Much better because I am realizing that I have been giving my power away, but it is still a struggle. I still do care what others think. I do care what you think of my writing. I do care if you like me. I wish that somehow I could learn that I give my power away when I allow your opinion to dictate how I feel about myself.
I can’t help but think of my own 3 year old daughter. When will this begin for her? Has it already started? What, if anything, can I do to help her build a healthy self-esteem that will help her weather these types of storms? I watch her playing in the park, her long blond ponytail blowing in the breeze. Although she is shy around adults, she will march up to any child, introduce herself, and ask if he wants to play. It makes no difference to her if the child is male or female. She doesn’t care if the child speaks her language. She doesn’t care about the color of the child’s skin. She doesn’t care if the child is older or younger than she is. She doesn’t care where or if he goes to church. She doesn’t even know to care about a child’s sexual preference. All that matters to her is that she has found a willing playmate. If a child doesn’t want to play or ends up being mean to her, she will usually walk away and will come find me. She’ll need a quick hug and to tell me what happened, which usually ends up with her saying that the child just “didn’t have much joy right then.” Then, she’ll go bouncing off to ask another child to play. She doesn’t take it personally and it certainly does not affect the way she views herself. She is still, for now, a healthy and happy secure little girl. Untouched.
If I want my precious daughter to keep her healthy self-esteem and her power, I must first do the same. She learns from me- I hear her saying my words, using my phrases and timing, and I see her using my facial expressions and mannerisms. What better gift could I give to my child than to teach her how to be completely secure with herself? That the opinion of others does not define her? That the only person she needs to please is herself? Perhaps it isn’t me that needs to give this gift of knowledge. Perhaps it is me that needs to receive the gift of truth. My daughter already has this figured out. She knows who she is and is completely secure in herself. My real job is to learn from her, to become like her, so that she doesn’t become like me. My job is to remember the me I used to be before I allowed the opinion of others, real or imaginary, to cloud my view of myself. True happiness comes from within. She already knows this. Now it’s my turn.