Tag Archive for self-image

The Crazy Exploration of Teens

Teens seem to have two speeds: lounging around the house or running around “who-knows-where” with their friends.  At home, they often appear “bored” and maybe even a little grumpy. With their friends, they are energetic and full of smiles, exploring new places and trying out new activities. Sometimes we may even think they are engaging in too much novelty with their friends. However, while exploring their world and interests can carry some risk, our teens’ energetic exploration of their world actually benefits them in life. In fact, they need to engage in this exploratory behavior.

A study published in 2022 shows us a couple of the benefits of this energetic exploration. The researchers in this study followed teens and young adults (13- to 27-years-old) using GPS trackers. The GPS trackers could measure how often the participants visited novel locations over a 3-month period. This provided “real-life data” of exploratory behavior and novelty seeking. Based on this data and the participating teens’ self-report, the study suggests:

  • Daily exploration peeked during the transitional years of 18 to 21.
  • All ages (13- to 27-years) reported better moods on days in which they had explored more. In other words, exploration was linked to greater psychological well-being.
  • Those with higher than average levels of exploration also reported larger social networks. In the long run, a strong social network is associated with greater emotional well-being.
  • Teens who explored more also reported more risky behavior. This was not true for adults. Perhaps adults have better learned their limits, strengths, and interests.

Taken together, these results suggest that teens and young adults are explorers. They are exploring the possibilities that will come with adulthood. As a result, our teens and young adults benefit from exploration and novelty seeking behaviors. It prepares them for adulthood. Whether it be visiting new places, trying new things, experimenting with new hobbies, or sampling new friend groups, exploratory behavior enhances our teens’ well-being and helps them establish stronger social connections.

We can help our teens explore their world and the “world beyond” by providing them with healthy opportunities to explore areas of interest. As we provide healthy opportunities, we can help assure their safety while promoting their maturity. For more ideas see Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior and Parenting Lessons from a Washtub Bass.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland with Family

Winter has arrived. We’ve even had our first snow of the year. With the onset of cold weather, many people have turned up the heat, grabbed a book, and snuggled up on the couch with a soft blanket for the winter. Truly, a little hygge is always nice. However, I want to suggest another winter activity as well. This activity has a surprising benefit according to a study involving 87 women with an average age of 24 years. In fact, engaging in this activity for 40 minutes lead to a greater appreciation of one’s body, a better body image. Think of it, an improved body image after a simple 40-minute activity. “What is the activity?” you ask. A simple 40-minute walk in a snow-covered woodland area. A walk through the snow-covered nature… that’s all it took.

The senior author of the study reported that “natural environments help to restrict negative appearance-related thoughts and shift attention away from an aesthetic view of the body and toward greater appreciation of the body’s functionality.”

Body image is one of the struggles our teens have to resolve. In fact, many of us continue to struggle with body image throughout our adult life. Taking a walk through a snow-covered park or snow-covered woodland area is a simple way to work on a more positive body image through the winter months.

To really reap the benefits of this study for your family, you need to consider another interesting finding of the study. Specifically, those who tested high in self-compassion prior to their walk in the snow had larger improvements in body appreciation than those who tested lower in self-compassion. With that in mind, you can nurture self-compassion in your children. How?

  • Teach them an emotional vocabulary. Help them learn a large vocabulary for labeling their emotions. Help them to label the emotions they see in others as well. Teach them to look beyond simple behavior in others to see the emotions and intents behind the behavior.
  • Discipline your child’s behavior rather than labeling their character. This will involve planning ahead to avoid some behavioral issues. It will also involve teaching them how to behave differently in the future rather than simply punishing negative behaviors as they arise.
  • Model self-compassion in your own life. Rather than beat yourself up for mistakes or shortcomings, model self-compassion. Rather than modeling self-criticism, model self-compassion. This may take practice, but it will benefit you and your children in numerous ways.

You’ve set up an environment that nurtures self-compassion. Now grab your family, bundle up, and go for a walk in the snow. For the more active families, go sled-riding or skating. Have a snowball battle. Build a snowman. Whatever your style, get outside this winter. You’ll feel better about your body and so will your teen. In all honesty, you’ll just feel better all the way around.

The Life Cycle of a Label in Your Child

The labels our children acquire have a life cycle of their own…and that life cycle has a tremendous impact on their identity. Unfortunately, labels are often conceived without thought. They might be conceived in anger or in jest, but they are conceived, nonetheless. You’ve seen it happen. A parent tells their child to quit being “stupid” or accuses them of being “lazy…” and a label is conceived. Or an infant gets a nickname that sticks, and a chubby baby acquires the label “Chubby” that sticks even into adolescence.

As the child develops, the label develops as well…and gives birth to their own thoughts about themselves. The labels give birth to the DNA of their self-image. “Stupid” and “lazy” are no longer simple statements conceived in anger or frustration but an integral part of the child’s thoughts about themselves. The label conceived gives birth to a self-identity of “stupid” or “lazy.” “Chubby” matures into an enduring belief about “who I am,” even as the child physically grows into a healthy young adult. The label has grown. It has taken on a life of its own, a life that our children (and ourselves) struggle with as adults. The labels of “stupid” and “lazy” battle with the hardworking achievement of an intelligent adult for that person’s primary self-image.

Of course, not all labels are the same. Some might give birth to a more positive self-image. But labels conceived in anger or in jest end up giving birth to hurt and self-deprecating inner thoughts. I once knew a young man named Sterling. His family called him “Sterile” for short, never realizing how disempowering this nickname could be. However, one day while I was visiting a church with Sterling, an older man asked his name. He replied, “Sterling.” The man smiled and said, “Like silver. You are as precious as Sterling silver.” The young man’s face lit up with a smile like I had never seen on his face before. Perhaps a more encouraging nickname would have been Silver.

All of this begs the question: what labels do you conceive in your children and the children around you? How might those labels impact your child’s self-image as they grow into adulthood with that label embedded in their thoughts? Think carefully…and act wisely.

Enhance Your Tween’s Self-Esteem

Nurturing a positive self-concept in our children as they move through the “tween” and teen years can be a challenge. Harsh, even mean, social comparisons and peer criticisms chip away at their self-esteem on a daily basis. However, research published in April 2019 offers a practical and efficient way to improve our children’s self-esteem even during these years. This study used data collected from 6,209 11-year-old children participating in the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort study. These children completed a self-esteem scale as well as a questionnaire to determine how often they listened to or played music, engaged in visual arts, or read for enjoyment at home. They were also asked how often, if at all, one or both parents joined them in the activity. Finally, teachers rated the children’s level of ability in music, art, design, and the English language. The results revealed at least three interesting findings.

  1. Children who engaged in visual arts activities “most days” tended to have significantly higher levels of self-esteem than those who participated less often. That difference doubled when comparing those who engaged in art activities “most days” with those who engaged in art activities “less than once a month.”
  2. Children who engaged in reading or in making/listening to music with a parent 1-2 times a week also reported a higher level of self-esteem than those who did not.
  3. Finally, a child did not have to be good at the activity to reap the benefit of a higher self-esteem by engaging in that activity. It appears that engaging in the activity, not one’s ability, was the key factor.

In other words, a great way to nurture your child’s self-esteem is through visual arts, music, and literature. Children experienced a higher self-esteem when engaging in visual arts independently and with parents. Reading and music showed increases in self-esteem when engaged in with a parent. What does this mean for you and your children? You can nurture a healthy self-concept and a higher level of self-esteem in your child by:

  • Reading to them and with them.
  • Reading the same book as your child and taking the time to talk about the book with your child or teen.
  • Listen to music together and talk about the music you listen to.
  • Sing together. Play instruments together. (This is a great family fun night, too.)
  • Dance together.
  • Draw or paint together.
  • Make crafts or art projects together.

You may be thinking, “But I’m no good at those things.” That’s OK. Remember, the study revealed that you don’t have to be good at the activity to reap the benefits of an improved self-image. Just enjoy the process. Enjoy the time together. And enjoy your child’s boost in self-esteem.

It’s Not All Bad…It’s a Wonderful Opportunity

So, you or your child have been diagnosed with ADHD. For many, this diagnosis carries a negative connotation. But did you know that people with ADHD often have skills that other people wish they had? Let me share a few.

  • Children with ADHD can often focus on a task they enjoy or find interesting for hours. They exhibit a “hyper-focus” in areas of interest and enjoyment. This level of focus leads to improved performance and efficiency. I have a friend who has amazing talent on the piano and as a magician because of this skill of “hyper-focus” on areas of interest. Of course, helping find your child’s interest allows them to enjoy this skill. As they experience improvement in their skill level, it will boost their confidence as well.
  • Children with ADHD have a high level of energy. As a result, they can often excel at sports or other physical activities, especially when combined with the focus described above. Another friend from my twenties noted that martial arts helped him manage his ADHD. His interest allowed him to focus in this area. His practice expended energy and helped him have periods of calm. And he quickly became exceptionally good.
  • Children with ADHD are often highly creative. They may approach tasks from a different perspective and solve problems in unique ways. As a result, consulting a person with ADHD can boost problem-solving options. One of my friends with ADHD is an excellent comedian and playwright. He can present important information for personal growth with a humorous flair and energy that really “sticks with” the audience.
  • Children with ADHD are often spontaneous and courageous. They enjoy unplanned moments, and those moments create wonderful memories. They can teach us to enjoy the moment as well.

You can help your child make the most of these skills by involving them in activities that capitalize on the skills they possess. That may mean involving them in sports, creative activities like music, dance, or drama, or research-oriented clubs that encourage creative problem-solving.

Overall, raising a child with ADHD can demand a great deal of energy. However, when we recognize the skills they have, and capitalize on those skills, we can enjoy watching them grow more confident and talented in life. After all, people with ADHD have a great deal to offer the world, a tremendous amount of emotional, intellectual, and physical resources we desperately need. As parents, we can help prepare them to share their emotional, intellectual, and physical skills with the family, the community and even the world.

Gratitude, Family, & the Gift of Self-Worth

Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health.  It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it?  However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.

  1. People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks.  In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
  2. People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
  3. People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50%  and spent 15% more time helping.
  4. Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.

Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.

Teen Self-Esteem? Forget About It! (Well, in part anyway)

Teens are hard on one another…and they are hard on themselves. They live under the constant pressure of expectations from parents, coaches, teachers, peers, and even themselves. In an effort to feel good about themselves, to have a positive self-esteem, they often get caught up in comparing themselves with other teens and with the false images of touched-up beauty, staged happiness, and constant success they find on social media. Questions like “Am I good enough?” or “How can I compete with them?” and “What have I accomplished lately?” are ripe with global evaluations that make anyone feel bad. All this judging of one’s self against arbitrary standards of perfection does not promote a positive self-esteem in our teens. But I have an idea. Forget about self-esteem. Focus on self-compassion instead.

Self-compassion allows us to recognize and accept our mistakes and struggles since “we are part of the human race.” Through self-compassion, we realize that “we all make mistakes and struggles. I am not alone.” Teens who practices self-compassion treat themselves with the same kindness and understanding they would extend to a good friend. This may sound naïve, but a study of 235 adolescents and 287 young adults revealed that teens and young adults who practiced self-compassion demonstrated a greater sense of well-being. That’s not all, either. Another study of self-compassion found that teens who practice greater self-compassion had less fear of failure and a greater association with “adaptive academic motivational patterns.” In other words, teens with self-compassion were better able to focus on accomplishing tasks at hand. They have greater perceived confidence and less fear of failure. As a result, they work toward achievement without the hinderances of fear or emotion-based goals. So how can you promote self-compassion in your teen?

  • Accept your teen’s emotions and help them find a name for those emotions. The broader a teen’s emotional vocabulary, the better able they are to recognize and accept those emotions in themselves and others.
  • Confirm that many experiences with which your teen struggles are universal experiences. They are not alone. Explore how other people have dealt with those struggles to help provide them options. 
  • Ask your teen what they would say to a friend in a similar situation. Encourage them to offer themselves the same compassion and kindness they would offer their friend.
  • When your teen makes a mistake or experiences a failure, understand their point of view. Listen carefully to understand. Then, after they know you understand, problem-solve together for similar incidents or situations that may arise in the future.
  • In conversation, use statements that are self-compassionate, statements that accept mistakes and look to the future, statements that show kindness, statements that reveal acceptance.
  • For more ideas, check out Dr. Neff’s self-compassion exercises. (Dr. Neff is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of TX, Austin, and a pioneer in self-compassion research.)

Ironically, as we teach our children and teens self-compassion, their positive “self-esteem” will likely improve as well. So, forget about self-esteem. Help your teen develop self-compassion.

Thank You, Body

Our society sends conflicting messages about their bodies, mixed messages that seem to develop a love/hate relationship with our bodies. As a result, a large percentage of people are dissatisfied with their bodies. Perhaps we need to change the focus from external appearance to function and character. We need to teach our children that what a body does for us is more important than appearance alone. We need to teach our children to be grateful for their body. With that in mind, I wanted to share this “body prayer” from Body Prayers: Finding Body Peace—A Journey of Self-Acceptance by Rebecca Ruggles Radcliffe (Copyright©1999 EASE). Share it with your children and let’s begin to raise a generation that appreciates their body.

Thank you hips for carrying me forward this morning.

Thank you legs for being strong enough to push on through the distance I choose to go.

Thank you feet for holding me, lifting me, supporting my every step.

Thank you ribs for sheltering my precious lungs.

Thank you lungs for taking in the sun-filled morning.

Thank you arms for embracing my life, for grabbing onto what is important to me.

Thank you face for feeling the wind and the sweetness of the day.

Thank you eyes for taking it all in, for keeping me centered, grounded, and here today.

Thank you brain for coordinating this amazing journey.

Thank you fingers for being able to stroke my child’s back, fingers, face, hair…

Thank you mouth for swallowing my morning tea.

Thank you heart for being so dedicated, so loyal, so loving.

Thank you soul for wanting so much more.

Thank you stomach for sorting out all that I put in, good and bad.

Thank you intestines for clearing out all that I do not need.

Thank you endocrine system for keeping me balanced, healthy, alive.

Thank you skin for containing me in one miraculous package.

Thank you hair for blowing free and helping me to dream.

Thank you neck for keeping all the communications in my life flowing.

Thank you womb for making me creative, life-producing, feminine, changing, growing.

Thank you teeth for enabling me to bite off what I like and growl at what I don’t.

Thank you ears for listening to the higher voice.

Thank you tongue for helping me to sing.

This is my beautiful body today and always.

Does Your Child Have Low Self-Esteem? Try This!

Self-esteem is not easy to come by in today’s world. Our culture communicates that “ordinary” is not “good enough”…that self-esteem is based on performance, achievement, being better than the next guy. This leads to a self-esteem built on sand, shaky ground at best. The common answer to this problem is to shower our children with praise. Unfortunately, this does not help. In fact, research suggests that lavishing our children with praise may either lower self-esteem or make our children less willing to pursue challenges.

So, what can we do to help our children gain a more positive self-image? Eileen Kennedy-Moore gives a very insightful answer in Greater Good Magazine. It may sound strange, but the answer lies in helping our children take their eyes off themselves and learn to focus on something bigger than themselves. This is a great answer…and we can help our children do it at any age! Here are a few ways.

  • Immerse your children in a project or experience that they both enjoy and are challenged by. This might include building a model, drawing, reading, studying a favorite topic, playing a sport. Encourage them to get lost in the adventures of great books or music or hiking, rock climbing, or art. You’ll know they have experienced this when they become absorbed in the activity, lose track of time, and enjoy the challenge presented.
  • Let them bear witness to acts of courage, generosity, and virtue in other people. This will motivate them to care about others and to act courageously in expressing their care for others. They can bear witness to caring, generous, and courageous people by learning the stories of heroes. Tell them stories about family members and friends who have engaged in generous, kind, virtuous acts. Talk about historic figures who have engaged in generous, kind, virtuous acts. As Mr. Rogers has said, “Look for the helpers” and then point them out to your children.
  • Nurture compassion in your children. Children begin to feel compassion at a very young age (this video shows children leaning toward the “good puppet” for whom they have compassion as young as 18 months). Nurture their compassion by letting them witness your compassion in helping others. Provide opportunities for compassionate action as a family. Visit a sick friend or a nursing home. Involve them in volunteer work as part of your family. Volunteer at a shelter. Run in an event raising money for a need you and your child care about. Encourage them to care about their friends’ well-being and teach them practical ways to do so. Nurture compassion.
  • Experience awe as a family. Make it a point to enjoy those things that elicit awe. Watch a sunset together. Enjoy the vast, panoramic view of the ocean, the star-filled sky, or a mountain range. Enjoy the moving harmonies of great music or the intricacies of fine art. Experience the soul elevating times of worship together. Introduce your children to those things that move you to awe. And, when they discover something that moves them to awe, experience it with them.  

Each of these tips will help your children focus on something bigger than themselves. As they do, they move away from an excessive self-focus and self-evaluation, both of which hinder a positive self-image. They move toward curiosity, caring, and values that promote a positive confidence and a deeper, more joyous life.  

Your Teen’s Body Image

Our children and teens are under a lot of pressure when it comes to body image. They see the “perfect bodies” in pop culture through photoshopped magazine images, bodies of celebrities sculpted by personal trainers and time, and deceptive beauty created by make-up and camera angles on social media. Physical appearance and body image have become a hotbed of insecurity for our teens and young adults. But the University of Missouri has outlined a simple routine that can improve your teen’s body image. You can engage in this routine right in your own home and as a family. To uncover this routine and its benefits, the researchers from University of Michigan analyzed data from 12,000 students from more than 300 schools that stretched across all 50 states and Washington DC. Your children can benefit from this activity if they engage in it without you, but they will gain even greater benefit if you engage in it with them. It only requires a short amount of time and you probably already do it anyway. All you have to do is start engaging in this activity with your child and it can help improve their body image. What is this activity, this routine? Eating breakfast. That’s right. As simple as that. Research suggests that the more frequently a child ate breakfast during the week, the more positive their body image. And, the results were even greater if they ate breakfast with a parent. Eating with a parent allowed the parent to model a positive relationship with food, build stronger a parent-child relationship, and encourage a healthy start to the day. A.A. Gill, a British writer and critic known for food and travel writing, is credited with saying, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” Breakfast not only serves as a commitment to the beginning of a new day; it serves as the beginning of a positive body image as well. So, buy a box of cereal, toast up some bagels, make some pancakes or fry some eggs. Whatever you choose, enjoy some breakfast with your children.

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