Nadia Mendoza is one third of the Self -Esteem team, she shares her thoughts on Self-Esteem for boys. A must read for parents and teachers.
Have you ever dragged yourself out of bed to go to work when you didn’t want to? Soldiered on after being hurt in a relationship? Stood up for yourself in an argument? That’s self-esteem, right there. Self-esteem is strength, dignity, and pride. It’s how we value ourselves. It’s our sense of self. It is, essentially, character.
Somehow, self-esteem has become bastardised to be synonymous with activities like basket-weaving or arts and crafts, something you might see one of the ‘crazies’ in Girl, Interrupted do during group therapy to rebuild their damaged mind.
The term is also thrown around alongside disgruntled rants about how teens have ‘too much self-esteem’ as ‘they’re a bunch of narcissists who take selfies all day’.
Traditionally, self-esteem and mental health have been seen as something separate from education, or at least secondary, tacked on to a token day of PSHE once a year. We have a ‘pull your socks up and get on with it’ mentality. Yet self-esteem doesn’t just begin and end with looking in the mirror, it seeps into everything we do.
When in an average UK classroom, three children have a diagnosable mental health condition, 1 in 10 will develop an eating disorder before the age of 25, and 47% say their negative body image stops them from partaking in everyday activities like sports, drama and raising their hand in class, you can see how self-esteem (or a lack of) has the power to rob people of their potential and impact their future.
It’s all very well striving for A*s, but if you’re crying yourself to sleep every night through stress, or self-harming through fear of failure, or denying yourself food in a bid to regain some kind of control, then grades mean nothing without a sound mind.
This is why The Self-Esteem Team travel the UK teaching students (and their teachers and parents) about mental health, body image and exam stress, in a bid to include wellbeing onto the curriculum and introduce it alongside the core subjects.
To deny its importance, is to intrinsically go against our duty to teach young people and provide them with the best possible information they need to help them make wise choices, keep safe, and achieve their best.
Traditionally, boys have been left out of this conversation, with self-esteem often tarnished as something ‘girly’ or ‘wimpy’ or just a bit nauseatingly saccharine.
Yet we are urging parents and teachers to include them, simply by asking how their day was, keeping that dialogue open, letting your son know you are a nonjudgmental ear, redefining strength by saying that strong lads ask for help when things get too much, ditching emotion-shaming slogans like ‘man up’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ – all this cements their support network should the going ever get tough.
Last year, my friend James Mabbett took his own life. He was just 24. As the life and soul of any room, he was categorically the last person you would expect to kill himself. He was ‘happy’ beyond meaning of the word, a smile always etched in place.
It was only after he died and I began researching suicide, that I discovered it is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. There is nothing girly or sweet about that.
Yes, statistics are tricky to identity with if you’ve never found yourself in a similar situation, though if we focus on prevention over cure, boosting the self-esteem of ourselves and in turn a nation, then hopefully fewer people will have to reach crisis point. If we break down the taboos of mental health stigma, then asking for help would be no different from seeking treatment for a broken limb or slurred speech.
A great starting point, rather than focus on your child’s homework or compliment them on aesthetics by saying how nice they scrubbed up for Sunday lunch, try telling them what a good listener they are at the dinner table, or how fun they were to be around over the weekend, or how they made you laugh on the drive to school – this creates stepping stones to pave the way for how they then value themselves.
If we start telling people that what we treasure in them is more than their looks or if they get grade As, then we help steer not only their self-worth, but their potential.
The Rocking Ur Teens Boys conference takes place on 17th November, 2016, find out more and book your place www.rockingurteens.com