Certainly the concept of self esteem in youth has been given a lot of attention in the media, in books and presentations, and in school. There is a push to elevate a child’s esteem through recognizing the good they do, by offering praise, and reinforcing rule following with positive feedback. But why is this important? How will high self esteem contribute to healthy decision making, and how can a community help its young people feel good about themselves?
Adults, by the way they act and interact, teach young people to believe in themselves and to like themselves. Telling and showing young people that they love and accept them for who they are, what they value, and the people they want to become helps build self esteem. Adults can also encourage high self esteem by teaching values that build esteem like caring, giving, being respectful of others, kindness and tolerance.
The research done by the Search Institute shows us that young people who feel good about themselves have positive relationships with parents and friends, better academic performance, and stronger peer pressure resistance skills. In Clinton, only 52% of our 7-12 grade students report feeling that they have high self esteem! This is definitely not high enough!
How can we help our young people feel more positively about themselves? At home, parents can compliment their children when they succeed. Let children overhear you praising them to someone else. In the community, we can take the time to learn about our young people: what do they value? How do they feel about current events? Ask them their opinions on important events. In schools, churches and other youth programs, we can publicly congratulate young people’s successes with written notes, calls home, and other forms of praise. We can offer criticism ONLY in private, not in front of peers. Connecting with young people and accepting them as they are help them to build esteem and to feel capable. When youth feel valued, safe, and listened to, they make better choices and contribute in positive ways!