“If children are not taught to love themselves from a very young age, they are never, ever going to make the choices that they need to have healthier bodies and healthier lifestyles.
-Julia V. Taylor
No pressure! Yeah, we knew that line was coming and we still broke out into flopsweats writing it. But you don’t need us to tell you this parenting gig is hard. What you might need is for us to remind you is that you are good enough, you are strong enough, and you are one of the most influential people in your children’s lives.
Are you sputtering, “But Ellen and Erin, what about peer groups, what about television, WHAT ABOUT THE MEDIA?”
Yes, we know, but embrace that YOU are important too.
Here are some facts so you don’t think we’re riding our unicorns around the Kingdom of Blissful Ignorance:
- Children generally start to find their place in the social puzzle around age eight.
- Elementary children learn that being mean can boost their “social visibility.”
- There is a true hierarchy of groups.
- Finding a niche is a vital part of adolescent development; peers literally define who they are.
- Belonging to a group sets the tone of adolescent everyday experience.
Source: Julia V. Taylor
Television and Media
American teenagers spend:
- 31 hours a week watching TV.
- 17 hour a week listening to music.
- 3 hours a week watching movies.
- 4 hours a week reading magazines
- 10 hours a week online.
Source: Miss Representation
So yes, your children are getting bombarded from all sides when you send them out into that big wide world. Shielding them from negative messages is like fighting a forest fire with a teacup: Impossible. What you can do is outfit them with the self-esteem and skills to make them fireproof.
And it starts with how you treat yourself and others; especially when “nobody is watching” because by the way, your kids are ALWAYS watching.
- Stop putting yourself down. Instead of talking about all of the things you hate about your body, talk about the history of your body and what it has carried you through. Your nose came from grandma. Those stretchmarks are badges of honor, baby.
- Model the kind of friend you want your child to be. You can preach kindness, but if your child hears you bashing your friends on the phone behind their backs on the daily, your words are empty. Smack talk isn’t just on the playground.
- Teach them to see the good in others by teaching them to compliment others. It’s much more empowering to hear “Wow, you are a really fast runner,” than “Wow, you’re so skinny.” Praise the work, not the look.
Teach them about media manipulation.
- Point out the tricks of advertising. Make them aware advertisers frequently imply something is wrong with you so that their products can “fix” it. We have yet to encounter the pore-less, depilitated, wrinkle-free bots airbrushed to a shiny sheen in fashion magazines. Go through one with your kids and fold down every page that implies “you can be improved.” It’s eye-opening.
- Discuss how reality shows have very little to do with reality. In fact, they have about as much of a grip on reality as a schizophrenia chipmunk. It’s scripted. And their horrible actions have no consequence because, wait for it, it’s a show created for shock value..
- Highlight what really should be admired. Ask them what they like about their favorite celebrities and they will likely list things like money and looks. Now ask them about someone in their life they admire and they will likely say those people are nice and help others. Not everyone can be a celebrity, but everyone can be someone to admire.
Help them manage peer situations.
- Listen. Don’t listen to figure out what you are going to say, listen to hear. And don’t be dismissive. If they share a problem and you say, “Oh, you’re fine,” you’ve just belittled their concern. Reflect back to them instead. “Wow, it sounds like you had a rough day. I understand you are feeling badly.”
- Listen some more. Do you sometimes just need to vent? So does your child. Let’s all practice saying, “Do you want my advice or do you just want me to listen?”
- Give them boundaries. They want to be reined in. They need to be reined in to feel secure.
- Give them an out. Let them know you will come get them out of any dangerous situation with no immediate questions asked, but with discussion to follow. Don’t have them more afraid of you than of getting into a car with an inebriated driver.
- Make sure all of their friends are not in one basket. Introduce them to other groups to be a part of so they can find a niche. It can be sports, art, scouts, theater, fire-walking, etc. Well, maybe only fire-walking if you’re super laid back.
All of these actions can help your child navigate the world, honor themselves, and understand your values. So if, for example, your child is offered a drink, it’s not just the high budget beer commercials and their friends’ urgings playing through their heads. You are there too.
Even if your kids act like they want you to go away, be involved. Adolescents who perceive less parental involvement are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like sex, alcohol, and drugs. Don’t confuse their intelligence for maturity. They need to know your rules and they need to know you’re watching. They need to value themselves so they make healthy choices.
So love yourself, teach them skills, and give them boundaries. And come rock with us in our corner while we sweat through this parenting thing together.
-Ellen and Erin
Julia V. Taylor is a K-12 Certified School Counselor and author of The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development (G.I.R.L.S. is two separate curricula, one for secondary ages, and another for elementary ages), and a children’s book, Perfectly You.
As a member of the #TalkEarly parent blogger team, this post is part of a campaign sponsored by The Century Council to combat underage drinking and advance alcohol responsibility. We thank them for bringing Julie V. Taylor to speak with us. All opinions are our own.
You can follow #TalkEarly on Twitter, Pinterest, and The Century Council Website.