Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

When writing gets leathery

June 15, 2010

Deep in the matrix of my psyche I associate writing with leather.  Not because of leather-bound volumes in oak paneled libraries, but because of coats—leather coats.

When I was a kid my dad had a friend who had a leather factory on the far south side of Chicago, near to where my dad had grown up.  The old Jewish quasi ghetto had morphed into an African American quasi ghetto.

Being middle class Jews trapped in some never-pay-retail internalized racism, it happened that my family once rode forever through a Chicago winter, arriving at a freezing warehouse filled with dead cow skin sewn into every variation of a coat that a pimp could want.

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Middle School Masochism

May 27, 2010

A recent New York Times article, “Teenage Insults, Scrawled on Web, Not on Walls,” by Tamar Lewin looked at a burgeoning internet trend wherein subscribers to sites such as Formspring can get anonymous (i.e. uncensored and brutally honest… or perhaps cruelly dishonest) feedback from others, which they can then elect to delete from their private in-box or post to a public profile on themselves.  Interestingly, albeit depressingly for parents, many kids seemed all too willing to post mean things about themselves, leaving parents in dread about comments so horrible that they would get deleted, but not before leaving deep scars.

Of course middle school kids were then free to post all sorts of mean comments, everything from snarky comments about your leggings to withering critiques of breasts and teeth.

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Kicking the Master in the balls

May 11, 2010

Never the joiner, today I jump into something Momalon cooked up:  five for ten.  I’m quite captivated by the idea of multiple bloggers concentrating on the same theme at the same time, a deliberate attempt to heighten some sort of shared consciousness.  Here goes for “courage”:

I was always the very shortest kid in my class growing up.  Sadly, Peter Wolf (the second shortest) claimed to be the very shortest one day in 7th grade so that he would get to be a team captain (since the coach said that the tallest and the shortest would be captains that day), and since Peter was more popular than me the other kids agreed that he was shorter once he wanted to be shorter.  Hah!

Somewhere around this time I took it upon myself to learn a martial art.  The only one available that knew how to get to by bus was Tae Kwan Do, and I became a diligent student for over a year.  Several days per week, in the rain, the snow or the sunny spring I rode down to the Dojo, which always smelled strangely sour and exotic, like the thick cotton of your uniform when you first bought it and tied it up with your plain white belt.

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May 3, 2010

A recent Marketplace interview by Tess Vigeland of Matthew Syed, who wrote a book called Bounce seemed worth blogging about.  The main take-away:  perseverance is way more important than talent.

Syed was the U.K.’s top-ranked table tennis player, and the fact that a number of his mates from the same street also ended up as top players got Syed thinking down some Malcolm Galdwellesque directions to ponder what makes for excellence.

The short answer:  practice, practice, practice.  Agreeing with Gladwell’s notions of an activity requiring the magic number of 10,000 hours of dedicated practice for one to achieve mastery, Syed also draws from recent research to support the importance of praising kids for their hard work rather than for their talent.  While there is certainly room for debate about whether Forest Gump sawing away on the violin for ten-k hours will make him into Mozart, it certainly would seem to make for a better world than if he did those same hours on a violent video game.

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It really is cool (and successful) to be kind

April 10, 2010

A NY Times piece on Ellen DeGeneres, “Ellen, ‘Idol’ and the Power of Niceness,” offers some significant hope in a time of bullies, backsliding and bullshit.

The central point is that in a world as catty and hokey as “American Idol,” even if Ellen’s shtick is as calculated as everyone else’s, she chooses to go with kind and this seems to win her cross-over fans (not across the straight-gay line, which it does, but across the kids-grown-ups line which is even more of a feat).

Hey, if a fifty-something fully-out lesbian can be liked, trusted and respected by virtually everyone, and represent wild success born of niceness, I think there is hope for America.  I don’t watch much TV, and I’ve never actually seen the Ellen Show, and have long since lost all interest in Idol, but I’m so far off the grid of what most people are interested in that I’m just thrilled to read in the Times that she’s nice and it’s going over well.

I’ve often said that it’s cool to be kind and I saw this story as another chance to make this point.  People who feel good about themselves are generally kind.  Cruelty is a sign of low self-esteem and unhappiness.  Mean people do not “win,” at what really matters, they do not achieve good feelings that last.

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When did we stop being us?

March 23, 2010

I love this picture of Andy.  To me it’s just adorable, but it’s also very real—a kid just being a kid, being her true Self.

Andy and I were talking about how we’re just starting to feel like ourselves again, those Selves that we were when we were five or so… after all these years of trying to be whatever it was we thought we were supposed to be, compensating for whatever we thought was wrong with us and not good enough about us.  She’s fifty-one and I’ll be fifty this year, and so it seems that moving fully off the radar of what our society is interested in is rather freeing.

Sadly, Andy tells me that soon after this picture, as she became closer to eight, she started to think she was ugly.  She wanted to have straight blonde hair and blue eyes—she wanted to be a different person.  She came to hate her curly hair, her tallness and particularly her shyness.  Andy thinks that her self-esteem dropped away because her mom was displeased with her, with her shyness in particular.  That pervasive negative view made her not like herself and eroded her confidence and her joy.

She was musing on how this picture, taken in one of those old photo booths, is a situation where what you look at is yourself.  Thus this is a picture of a little girl cracking herself up, goofing around with her angry face, her sweet face and enjoying her Baskin Robbins milkshake.  This is the way we look at ourselves before we learn to look with judgment, with the critical eye, with the need to look like other people wish we looked.

For me, the silver lining might be best summed up in the Leonard Cohen Lyric from “Chelsea Hotel”—“You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception.”

So, let’s dedicate today to striving to recapture the Selves we were before we were five, and to using those to see the beauty in the natural and unselfconscious being that we can find, if we gaze softly enough, in all our collective children (and in each other and in that wary stranger in the mirror—myself included).

Namaste, Bruce

Putting the self in self-esteem

March 11, 2010

While self-esteem is terribly important for healthy functioning, the very concept hinges on having a solid and cohesive sense of “self” in the first place.  Having written on narcissism in this blog, I have worked to differentiate self-absorption and arrogance from cluelessness.  After all, how can one feel good about a self that one does not actually possess?

A recent article in The Atlantic by Don Peck, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” references and quotes psychologist Jean Twenge (author of Generation Me) who suggests, that self-esteem in children started really going up around 1980, and, according to at least one survey, by 1999 91 percent of teens described themselves as responsible, 74 percent as physically attractive, and 79 percent as very intelligent.  Twenge chalks this trend up to “broad changes in parenting styles and teaching methods, in response to the growing belief that children should always feel good about themselves, no matter what.  As the years have passed, efforts to boost self-esteem—and to decouple it from performance—have become widespread.”

This has made kids more “confident” and “individualistic,” Twenge suggests, yet “self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work.”   Twenge asserts that, “the ability to persevere and keep going” proves “a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem.”

It’s not that I completely disagree with Twenge’s view, just that a re-think on the semantics of self and self-esteem could help us better parent our kids.  In other words, I don’t really believe that thinking we’re smart and pretty constitutes good self-esteem; thinking we’re dumb and ugly may well be a sign of low-self-esteem, but the development of a real self takes a bit more than being told we’re wonderful.

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Eating Issues: Breakfast at Tiffany’s… dinner at home

February 4, 2010

At some point I went from seeing Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as an idealized anima to realizing that she (or at least her character) was an anorexic woman in a hat with a lot of issues (after all, Holly Golightly is essentially a self-involved prostitute who is ashamed of her uneducated hillbilly roots—a lost kitty in a rainstorm and someone who needs treatment more than a lover).

Given that body image, weight-loss obsession and eating issues are legion in our culture, I thought Privilege of Parenting would take a plate and get in line at the buffet.  My focus is on the parenting aspects of eating disorders (an excellent place to read and learn more about anorexia in a New York Times Health Guide on the subject which also has links to Bulimia, and other eating disorder sites).

I think that most of us get the general gist that anorexia is about dangerous levels of weight loss while bulimia is about eating and purging via vomiting, over-exercising or laxatives/diuretics.  A less well known, but more frequently diagnosed acronym is EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified); in this case some people, when given this less severe diagnosis, will actually go further in their extreme non-eating to, for example, stop getting their period and thus qualify for the full diagnosis of anorexia.  For more on this see a recent New York Times story on EDNOS, “Narrowing an Eating Disorder.”

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A bullet-proof vest for the soul: psychological abuse in relationships

February 2, 2010

In a recent  NPR interview by Michele Norris, about psychological abuse in relationships, Dr Steven Stosny (Psychologist; Author, Love Without Hurt) spoke about the gender difference regarding the things that we are mean about when we systematically put our lovers down.  While Stosny acknowledges that we all say mean things sometimes, non-abusive relationships allow for apology (and hopefully a change in behavior moving forward) while abusers tend to be self-righteous in telling the other that they deserve the bad treatment or are at fault for “making me do it.”

Stosny claims that one in four relationships have some degree of psychological abuse, and that this abuse can be a precursor to physical abuse (in about 40% of cases); yet he points out that as wrong as physical abuse is, unless it results in disfigurement or overt maiming, it is the psychological abuse that causes more damage—making people feel lastingly unlovable and worthless (while physical abuse is easier to recognize as “wrong” and out of control—about that other person having issues).

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I say yes, you say no: oppositionality in teens

January 14, 2010

As mentioned a few days back, I wanted to follow up on the issue of oppositionality in teens, particularly with regard to the inquiry that asked for feedback on how a mom can stay connected with her child, honor the need to individuate, but keep him safe as well (when grades are dropping, weed has been found in his room and all the kid wants to do is ride bikes with friends and play video games).

In keeping with the general spirit of this blog, my primary intention is to invite alternative ways of thinking about things, striving to deepen and broaden our parenting perspective—and in so doing, to empower parents to decide, and then act upon, whatever’s right for any given parent and their unique family situation.

In my experience, oppositionality and low self-esteem tend to go hand in hand.  It’s always good to keep in mind that everyone’s behavior makes sense… at least to himself or herself.  In parenting (and in life) relationship is everything; before we can help a person change, we have to reach them where they are.  With oppositional children we tend to end up feeling like we’re talking to a wall; we lecture and explain why they should change, and they do not change.

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