Middle School

I'm Not Giving my Child his Self-Esteem. Now What?

Self-esteem cannot be given.  It comes from within.

I’m sure that is a controversial statement, which hundreds of doctoral theses’ have been founded on.  But think just simply about the language.

You can have confidence in someone.  Can you give them confidence?  You can have faith in someone.  Can you give them faith in themselves?  You can admire someone.  Can you give them self-admiration?  You cannot self-esteem someone.  How could you possibly give self-esteem to someone?

Further, are you responsible for your child’s self esteem?  Yes and No.  Constant criticism, lack of attention, and no encouragement or support can definitely undermine one’s early image of oneself.  Yet, look at the individuals who rise above such poor and neglectful upbringings to go on to develop a wonderful sense of self, doing amazing things with their lives.  Who gave them their self-esteem?  No one.

Self-esteem comes from within.

So called “helicopter parents” do their children no favors by handling all of the arrangements for their children, nor all the personal conflicts they stand to encounter not only in their adult lives but in the current life of their childhood.  They are admirable parents, only wanting the best and being the best for their child.  But, how do they even know what that is?  Personalities abound. 

What if their child doesn’t want what they want?  What if they cannot live up to the expectations of these parents? 

In the book, How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, one mother that was interviewed said, “I need to put out champion-caliber children who are at the top of their field, making an impact and changing the world in some way.  I am responsible for creating the individual who is capable of that.  They are my legacy to the world.” Is she serious?  I can only wonder what her timeline for that is?

And what if they don’t live up?

Raising children is a long and arduous process.  A three year old is not the same as an 11 year old.  Situations will come up when you least expect.  Even though you may try, you are not always going to be there at those moments.  More importantly, Johnnie is not the same as Susie, even if they came from the same mom and dad.  (I happen to know this for a fact.)  Some are smarter. (Susie)  Some are more athletic. (Johnnie).  Just kidding.  Some are introverted.  Some are aloof. 

Cannot all of these have either high or low self-esteem?  Of course.

Now What can parents do?

Guidance is the best word for it.  Encouragement.  Support, both logistical and emotional.  At least two times in my daughter Carolina’s life, I intervened in a situation that was causing her strain and stress, one in preschool and the other in 7th grade.  For one, I even requested to move her to a different class.  Both times, the teacher assured me that he was very aware of the situation and encouraged me to let Carolina handle the situation herself, which she seemed quite capable of doing.  Carolina even writes about the latter situation in her sister blog, ‘My Kid is a Bully’ found at www.nowwhatcarolinaduncan.com.  What sage advice.  I guided her and offered coping strategies, but ultimately she had to get through it herself.  She went on to be able to handle equally stressful situations-audition rejections, difficult college roommates (and great ones, too), difficult bosses and a move across the country for a career that would test the self-esteem of even the most confident young person.  I am proud of her. 

Did I give that self-esteem to her?  No. Does she have good self-esteem?  Most of the time.

It was gained by her own accomplishments, her own efforts, her own life experiences, and her own failures that she was allowed to have and move on from.

Don’t constantly tell your child how great they are.  Let them find out for themselves.



Teenagers and Sex. Argh! Now What?

I can’t talk about it.  That means I know about it and I certainly don’t want to encourage it. 

How many times have you thought that?  Or heard it?  

One of the hardest things of all times that parents face.  Can’t they just find out about it on their own?  Yes, they can.  Or they can find out about it from you.  Do you have something to offer, other than, “don’t do it!!””  You do.  I really think parents should band together on this.  They should meet and talk about it, and support each other.  I think they would be surprised at what kids are saying and doing, and what other parents are doing.  It may give them guidance and a familiarity from which to share with their children.  

Statistics on teenagers and sex abound. 

Statistics used to show that 50% of girls and 80% of guys will have had sex before they finish high school.  Get this in your head.  If you are a parent of a male high school child, you better be talking.  For the girls, the thing that stuck out for me is that 50% of high school girls have NOT had sex.   Yes, Guess jeans, Glamour magazine and every one else will have you believing you are the only one not “doing it.”   No, not true.  You should probably convey this to your teenager, more than once.


However, if you teenager starts to have a committed relationship, by about the second month you better believe the topic is on the table and you better start talking. In fact, you should already have been talking.

And the easiest and best way is to start early.

I say, have the eight-year-old talk.  That’s right.  Beat them to it.  Start early, start slow and whenever the situation allows, bring it up again. Talk at the level appropriate for their age.  At eight, the talk might go something like, “When a guy and a girl really love each other, they may decide to get married (explanation of that) and then they may decide to have a baby(general explanation of that).”  As they get older and older, the conversations get more factual.  I always used the proper names for things and actually, the briefer the message, the better.


By starting early, it gives you a long time to get your thoughts in.  All your thoughts.  When my youngest was in middle school, one of her friend’s moms removed her daughter from their lunch table because they talked about boys.  The same mother would go on to say she wasn’t going to let her daughter date until she was 18.  That way, if she got pregnant, she was old enough to marry.  Wait a minute.  I thought it was normal for 12-year-old girls to talk about boys.  And I did not want my girls to think that boys were the enemy.  I, actually, like guys.   Liked them then and still do.  But, I drift. There is a lot of life that goes on between dating and pregnancy.  Let them know about that.

Since one-liners are my best mode of communication, these are some that worked for me.  Once, when tutoring a high schooler that I just loved, she started to go out with an older guy.  I could tell he was putting pressure on her.  All I had to offer was –

Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and always know what you are doing.

 Bam!  She broke up with him by the next tutoring session.  My main message in talking about sex and guy/girl relationships mostly involves the psychology of it.  That it was natural for girls and guys to be attracted to each other.  That I wanted them to have great relationships.  That I knew they would get to the sex part.  And yet, sex enters everyone into a new territory.  It affects your relationship with each other, your relationship to your family, his/her family.  More succinctly and tongue in cheek, I would say,

Sex is messier than you think.  Be careful whom you chose to have it with. 

So much in so few words. Literally and figuratively.