Today’s topic for the Beautiful Like Me Project, a project dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of self-esteem and poor body image in today’s youth, is:
“What do today’s children and teens feel pressured to imitate? Why?”
This is one of those topics that’s going to drive you bonkers. Hear me out as to why.
We’re parents. With having children, and having been children ourselves, we have most certainly heard the fight with young ones “Moooooooooooom, he’s COPYING me!“
And sure enough, a little sibling is following about, annoyingly copying word for word everything said, so next you hear, in a slightly smaller-ish voice, “Moooooom, he’s copying me!“
How do you often diffuse the situation? You can say “Stop it!” You can separate them to prevent it from continuing. Or, have you used the time-honored response:
“It’s okay. Don’t you know, imitation is the highest form of flattery.“
Stings to think about it in this context, doesn’t it? To think we were merely trying to teach our children that what their siblings were doing wasn’t bad, as they were “copying” to be just like them. We wanted our older ones to receive their younger ones desires to be like them as flattery, and not a bother. We wanted (and still want) our young ones to look to their older siblings as role models, but we weren’t being specific. We referred to “all imitation” as flattery, and as a result, instilled in their minds that it’s ‘okay’ to copy someone.
And so now, here we sit, our children are older and in their teenage years, and we watch almost hopelessly as they long to be like trashy rock stars, or imitate their supposedly “cool” friends who wear itty-bitty pieces of what they call “clothing”, or are foul-mouthed and snotty, and we think “Uh oh, what did we do wrong?”
Our mouths sure got us into somethin’, huh?
It is true that imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, but what we really wanted to achieve, here, is for our children to understand that little siblings should look up to their parents and older siblings as role models, but for the right reasons, and not to become something they aren’t. In today’s society it is becoming increasingly important as to how we instill that in our children, as well as the the importance of “monkey-see, monkey-do.” I talked about that last time, walkin’ the walk, didn’t I?
We have to convey for our children the person we want them to be, want them to become. We want them to learn from our mistakes, we ourselves want to learn from our parent’s mistakes. Aren’t there times that, without trying to, you utter something and realize “Oh my goodness, I’ve officially become my mother!” by saying something like “Don’t make me stop this car!” or something. (Admit it, you know you have!)
Whether we want to admit it or not, our children are learning everything we have to teach, even when we’re not actively teaching them they are learning, as is evident by our unknowingly learn how to use the aforementioned phrase. It is important for them to see us as strong individuals, self-reliant, not easily influenced, so they themselves can become the same. Re-inforcement of the positive, by our influence, is key.
Another hugely important lesson to be taught, is for them to always think that they themselves are enough, no matter who or what they are. Black or white, short- or long-haired, braces or no, step-child or blood relative, they are enough. They need not have to imitate anyone in order to ‘better’ themselves.
Insecurity stems from someone thinking that they aren’t enough of something (or everything). Once insecurity and doubt surface, they immediately seek out answers and solutions, and usually in the wrong ways. Have you ever been in the presence of a child who, out of insecurity for himself or his situation, and his desperation for attention, does something bad to get that attention? The same applies here – if they don’t feel they are enough, they will seek out what will make them enough in other ways, until they find what they feel will make them enough, to get the attention they seek. And trust me when I tell you, more often than not, this will end badly.
The girl who didn’t feel pretty enough might go too far with a boy. The boy who thinks he’s not strong enough to impress girls might discover steroids. I could go on, but I think you see the point.
Once this self-doubt comes into play, they will start targeting people they feel have their ‘stuff together’, those who are confident in who they are (what they should be), and try to emulate them. They will pick said person apart in their minds, to try to sum up what it is he or she does that makes them so secure, so positive, so confident, and do what they do to feel that way themselves.
It is not up to peers to make our children feel secure. It is up to us!
We have got to take the appropriate steps to ensure our children are confident enough to stand up to outside influences, especially in today’s society, with drugs and sex happening earlier and earlier.
Looking up to someone is one thing. Trying to become that person is quite another. We need to express to our children that being themselves is the right thing to do, and that, just because they feel someone else is cool, does not mean that it will result in their being cool. In fact, it might do the exact opposite. They might be considered a phony, or a “wannabe”, and should that happen, and they further be targeted because of said behavior, well, I’m sure you can imagine the downward spiral from there. That self-doubt and insecurity will only get worse.
We need to reinforce that it should not matter what others think, it should only matter what we think, what us, as a family, think, and that our decisions should not be influenced by others.
My 13-year-old struggles with this, at times, with new friends. She is an agreeable-type person, who goes with the flow, especially with persons stronger than her, and is often overpowered when it comes to decision-making with them. It pains me to watch her sometimes. Most of the time she does her own thing and is her own person – wears her own idea of clothing (mismatched or no), listens to music she likes, but once she has “latched on” to a new, “cool”, stronger friend, I begin to notice differences – a sudden accent, or word usage, like the valley-girl “Like, Oh My God!” or sudden interests changing.
(I thank my lucky stars she thinks smoking is gross, and hates the smell of alcohol when she’s smelled it at big barbeques in the past, and hope she will remember this hatred when the situation arises.)
I know it’s the age, but it’s scary nonetheless, to wonder if she isn’t feeling like she isn’t enough, sometimes, to want to be more like other people.
Being a child is a time of growth and development, with teenage years being a time of discovery and finding oneself. Sure, the argument could be made about how will you know who you are or want to be without “trying things on for size”? (And that’s about the time I raise the alcohol/drug/sex argument, about how far they’re willing to let their children go to find out just who they are). How do you differentiate between letting them try something out for the sake of trying it, and trying something because it’s deemed cool because so-and-so does it?
Communication and presence.
Communication –Firstly, you have to openly communicate with your child and be available for them to openly communicate back to you. You have to let them know that you are there, for anything. They need to be able to talk to you about anything and everything or else (and I promise you), you will know nothing.
I have had many the talk with my oldest about telling us things, everything, especially those aforementioned influences, like drugs, alcohol and unfortunately, now sex, too. I have explained to her that, if she is uncomfortable in a situation and needs help, she has to tell someone. We’ve even come up with a code phrase for sleepovers, just in case she’s not having a good time, or a situation has arisen in which something is wrong, someone isn’t on the up-and-up, or worse, and she wants to leave without saying so outright – she will tell whomever’s in charge she has to call home, that she ‘forgot to bring something’, and call us and say, “I forgot my Jonas Brother’s T-Shirt.” That is the code for “Mom, come quick, I want/need to go home, I don’t like it here.” aka Mom-Goes-Nuts-Trying-Not-To-Speed-To-Rescue-Daughter™ (I’m a worrier, what can I say?)
Presence – It is important, in this day and age, to know where they are at all times, who they’re with, if parents will be there (especially at this age) and to speak with those parents to be certain they understand that they are to stay there and not leave, or else it’s me, in their face, mad as heck. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more they tell you, the better off you will be at arming your child with the appropriate information to handle their friends, their situations, and these ‘outside influences’.
My daughter has only just begun to do things “by herself”, but what she doesn’t realize is that, she’s never truly “alone” as she’d like to believe. When she goes to the rec. center after school, there are people working there. When she’s down the road at the park, there are housing people there, watching. I give her a little leeway, a little freedom, so she begins to build confidence in doing things herself, such as walking around this year with her friends by herself for Halloween. But we were out there, too, and we crossed paths many-a-time, as did other parents we knew, so she was being ‘watched’, and we were ‘present’, and yet, she still was ‘on her own’. You see?
And it isn’t just a physical presence that will help you with your child, it’s an emotional presence, as well. Especially as busy as we moms are, it is important for them to be able to talk to us in an uninterrupted manner. If we aren’t going to fully listen, because we’re on the computer, or changing a diaper, or on the phone, and there’s something important they have to say, but we’re not paying attention (especially when they may be waivering on how to say it to begin with, as it might be a hard subject), do you think they’re going to tell you? They will start to feel like you don’t have time, or that they can’t tell you what’s up. And trust me when I tell you, even if it’s about someone else, and not them, you want to hear it. Anything they have to say, even the boring “Corey pulled Tracey’s hair, and Tracey said ‘ow'” boring talk. Trust me, you might want to gouge your eyes out with a spork because it’s a boring tale, but those boring tales set the stage for open communication later when bigger, more pressing issues surface.
Not to mention, by not being available, and ‘present’, they will also feel we’re not really there for them and their needs, or don’t care about what they have to say, and who will they turn to? These “cool” friends they have, that probably feel that way about their parents, and will encourage them to ‘forget’ us, and only tell them what’s on their mind. And the influence worsens. And the self-consciousness increases. Not good!
Be there. Be present. Be available. Communicate.
Lastly, let me discuss something else that influences them – “Keeping Up With the Joneses” DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP! This is a BIG one, BIG BIG one, you may not even realize that you’re doing it, or teaching this to your children!
We always want the best of things, we always want to feel secure and feel like we’re doing our best, but please, for the love of whatever you consider holy, please DO NOT purchase things, or give things, simply because you feel they should have it because so-and-so has it. This goes for things for yourselves, your husbands, and others.
- Are your children watching you buy the best of things because you see others having them?
- Are your children witnessing your obsession with certain things, or overhearing you discussing how much you want something because someone else has it?
- Are your children watching other family members purchase things beyond their means?
- Are your children being bought things by family members that are over the top?
- Or the worst, are you giving in to your child’s desire to have something, simply because their line of reasoning is, that other’s have it?
This is related to imitation! They are imitating what they see, not only from you, but imitating the wants and desires of others, because they feel they should have these things because others do.
If you are not happy with what you already have, and they see you purchasing things to make yourself happier, or feel more adequate, then how are they to learn to be happy with what they already have? They might equate your purchasing things to better you or your life to bettering yourself, as if you are not enough. See how that works? How easily we can influence them negatively and not even know it?
I said it last time, in order to each our children the right way, we, ourselves, have to live that way. Walkin’ the walk.
- If we don’t want them to want everything Tom or Susie has, then we, ourselves, cannot covet everything everyone else has, either.
- We must show them that we purchase things out of need, not to one-up or compete with others.
- We must show them that we should only really replace something when we need to, and not because it isn’t pretty anymore.
- We need to show them that new isn’t always possible, and that ‘previously loved’ is perfectly fine.
I know it’s natural to want everything new all the time, and the best of everything (and for some things, it’s necessary), but they watch us like a hawk, and see everything we do, good and bad. Learning by our actions, the people who they will and should emulate, what are they learning? Who will they turn out to be?
And are these pressures to imitate really coming from their friends?
A pretty thought-provoking question, isn’t it? (See? Didn’t I tell you this topic would make you bonkers!?)
Would you like to join us for the Beautiful Like Me Project? We are inviting anyone and everyone to please join us in spreading the word. Please feel free to join in anytime. Also please take a minute to see the other Beautiful Like Me bloggers! Together we can help today’s youth have a positive self-image!
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