By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
Parents worry about self-esteem with their children. A low self-esteem is correlated with poor academic and personal development. Building a healthy self-esteem takes years, and parents, teachers and the child’s community help foster the child to feel good about him or herself while growing up. Part of self-esteem is learning self-respect. You aren’t born with an understanding of self-respect, so the people closest to you must model and teach you this characteristic.
Last week in the news there was a story about a concert performer* who was on the stage when a woman in the audience jumped onto the stage and performed a sexual act to him. It was disgusting, and of course social media spread it like a bad flu to everyone who was in harm’s way of catching it. The performer, as well as his public relations people, told the media that they couldn’t help it. He was unable to stop the performance or the behavior.
What? Couldn’t stop it or didn’t know how? How about stopping the performance and making a point of the inappropriateness of this action? Or how about if he spoke into the microphone and said to the crowd that he had too much respect for himself and his fans to allow this on stage? The problem wasn’t that he couldn’t stop it; the problem is he wasn’t comfortable with what it would say about his manliness, his brand or his music.
Self-respect is your reputation and in life that becomes your brand. What you allow yourself to become involved with, say or do is what you are building as your brand. If you aren’t able to stand up for yourself and say “NO” on your behalf, you are demonstrating what lack of self-respect looks like. The problem becomes complicated with the advent of social media and people with little self-respect desiring fame, but not understanding or caring that the fame they get may cost them their reputation.
Parents need to help their kids feel strong enough to say “No.” No to sex, no to drugs, no to texting in the car, and the list goes on and on. But most criticly, parents need to teach their kids why those things are important. It’s important because respecting your own voice, your life, others’ lives, and your ability to be trusted teaches others how to treat you. If you esteem yourself, you are teaching others your boundaries of right and wrong.
Empowering kids to stand up for their own reputation has never been tougher, but below are some suggestions that should help.
1. Teach your child what respect looks like. You do this by modeling, but also by pointing out people who show you respect.
2. Talk to your child about what they want to do with their life. Help them define a goal and a path to get there. When kids own their dreams, they protect their future and their reputation more.
3. Honor your core values and don’t sell out. Your core values are what you stand for and they protect your reputation.
4. Spend time helping others with volunteer projects. Kids who get involved with working and helping others are actually teaching themselves about their own boundaries and deriving self-respect.
5. Part of self-respect is empowering your teens to say “no” to sex. Parents should talk to their children about sex and help them feel reassured by saying no. Pressure and body language can make it difficult for self-assured kids to say no. Understandably, it is even more difficult for kids who aren’t as confident. Boys need help as well as girls. Brainstorming with your kids about things they can say back to pressure helps. Phrases such as if a date tells them, “Everybody’s doing it,” your child can respond back assuredly and with confidence, “I’m not everybody and I don’t have to do it just because everyone else is,” which helps your child feel confident about protecting themselves.
Teaching self-respect is successful when we model what self-respect looks like. Saying no is never easy if the crowd is all saying yes. However, when you know who you are and what you stand for, then it becomes easy to say the right thing for you and not worry about what everyone else is going to think or say. The ability to set a standard for yourself, and honor your code of honor will be respected by you and anyone who walks into your life.
I am not a fan of rap music. However, had this artist taken a self-respectable stance, and been able to demonstrate on stage what self-respect looks like, I would have been tempted to buy every one of his CDs.
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.