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The Self-Conscious Teen

If you flashback to the feelings you’ve had as a teenager, chances are you will definitely understand what your teenage daughter or son is going through. If you’re the lucky parent who has the honor of listening to your teenager, then you must get exactly what I’m talking about. “Am I too skinny? Too fat? Too short? Too tall? I hate my braces! My hair is hideous! I can’t wear these glasses!” I get the whole self-identity thing. Teens are becoming more in tune with who they are as an individual. It’s almost as if they care more about what their peers think of them than what their parents think. It’s a time of independence, but that’s also code for “mom, you just don’t get it!” If they only knew, I know it all too well.

I’m not a neurologist or a scientist, so I have no idea what part of their teenage brain makes them so hyper aware of just about everything! My daughters could be watching TV as I’m folding laundry and if I glance at them, I might get “ what? what are you looking at? what’s wrong?” Seriously, it’s as if they’re hypersensitive and reacting to the slightest things that go on around them. Not that they’re paranoid or anything, but often times, they act as if there’s cameras everywhere and they’re being watched or evaluated!

I’ve also been researching over the last few decades (that makes me sound so old!), that the lack of self-esteem in teenagers has risen to an all time high. Perhaps this has a lot to do with social media. Kids are communicating more with phones and other technology and doing less face-to-face interaction. This leads to kids being able to judge more, and being more covert with their messages, responses and actions. Hence, the equation is simple. The more judgment, the more embarrassment. The more embarrassment, the more low self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how much I compliment my own daughters. They evaluate themselves to the enth degree. It’s how they perceive themselves. Not that my opinions don’t matter to them, but really, it’s about how THEY feel about themselves that’s most important. The beauty I see is not at all what they see. And it’s not because I’m their mother. I genuinely admire what I see and feel compelled to express it. Yet, often, I get “yah, well, of course you think I have beautiful eyes. Cuz you’re my mom!.” Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Why can’t I just say what I mean and mean what I say?” Ugh. Frustrating. But then, I go back to that familiar place and remember that this is exactly how I thought when I was their age. I felt the same way and said similar things to my mom.

Speaking about self-esteem and self-consciousness, I sit here and ponder Caitlyn Jenner’s moving speech that I heard yesterday. I watched the ESPY Awards last night and was teary eyed. I thought about the many precious years Bruce lost of his own life. All because he couldn’t identify with his God given gender. How truly sad. I applaud his courage and admire his strength for being able to finally come to terms with who he really is. As a public figure, Bruce’s internal struggle with his own identify had to be magnified 1000 times. Where I really teared up was the part of Caitlyn’s speech when she said "If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it," she said. "But for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn't have to take it." That one part of Caitlyn’s speech resonated with me and it was so incredibly powerful. Caitlyn Jenner has a long journey ahead of her in not knowing where her new life will lead her. The important thing however is that she stood in front of millions conveying a message to the public that everyone is different and unique and that in itself demands respect.

Let alone depression and low self-esteem consuming billions of adults in the world, think for a second about how many children and teenagers suffer with their own identity. Getting bullied, murdered, or committing suicide is a parent’s worst nightmare. We yearn to protect our children and we have hopes and dreams that they will become self-confident and self-respecting people in the world. Without those qualities, their own self-defeating attitude can wreak havoc on their lives. I’m far from the perfect parent. There are days when I think to myself “how can I get it through to my girls that they’re beautiful inside and out?” Perhaps I first have to take a good hard look at myself and realize that I’m self -conscious as well. How can I expect my daughters to be happy with who they are if I’m not exactly modeling healthy self-esteem myself? No double standards and no bullshit allowed as the parent. Keep it simple. Keep it real. They can tell when you’re not, and it’s all because it goes back to what I mentioned earlier. They’re hyperaware of everything! They hear us, they listen to us, they watch us. Makes you a bit self-conscious, doesn’t it?

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