Boosting Self Esteem

David’s brand new Youth Culture Window article jabbed me twice this week.

David’s YCW article is always good. But this week’s article about the declining self esteem in young girls had me squirming in my seat twice (for two totally different reasons).

I first questioned the stats about drinking. Do you ever do that? Do you ever read something and think to yourself, “No. That’s gotta be wrong!”

David reports…

More and more teenage girls are trying to drink their self-esteem problems away. We know that roughly 11% of all the alcohol that is drank in America is consumed by a teenager, but recent studies by Columbia University debunk the myth that teenage guys drink more than teenage girls. At the heart of the increase is, you guessed it, low self-esteem. So now it’s the girls who are drinking the guys under the table.

I literally thought, “Yeah, right.” But then I read the report he linked (Don’t you love how we link the studies we quote in the YCW articles?) and looked it up myself. I even jumped back to another Youth Culture Window article he wrote back in October, “The Blame Game on Drinking Games,” an article that I remembered had quoted (and linked) the most recent Center for Disease Control youth risk survey results. Sure enough, more girls were “lifetime alcohol users” than males. Males and females were almost exactly tied for “current alcohol users” (had at least on drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey).

This surprised me. I thought I had remembered guys drinking a lot more. More guys are found to do “episodic heavy drinking” or “buying alcohol.” But girls not only were keeping up in most these drinking stats, they surpassed guys in a few of them. That was surprising to me. And that Columbia University report said that much of this drinking is tied to self esteem issues.

The other part of David’s article that hit me was our response or application. What can we do to battle low self esteem in young girls?

Think about this for a second. How do we build the self esteem of our young girls? Do we just assure them that they are God’s creation? Do we just tell them to simply turn off MTV and stop looking at Vogue? Do we assure them that they’re pretty?

These all sound good in theory… but are young girls actually going to listen to this? Is our voice louder than the media images they are taking in telling them that they just don’t measure up?

That’s where David and I went back and forth a little with the draft of this article. We realized that this issue doesn’t have easy answers. But here’s a little piece of what we finally came up with:

One of the most effective strategies I’ve found to boost self-esteem is providing opportunities to serve. When we put young people in situations where they help others who are worse off than themselves, it is not only a great opportunity to show love and compassion to the needy, it provides these young people with a larger world view than the “plastic” exterior they see in the media and the shallow world around them. When students spend a weekend feeding the homeless or spending time with the elderly in a convalescent home, all of a sudden, their own perceived inadequacies are minimized. This is nothing to do with works. We are saved by grace, through faith. But as God begins to renew our mind and change us, we no longer looks to temporary fulfillment from this world (including looks, status, stuff) … instead we look to God for fulfillment

Seize opportunities to help kids be used by God..

Create these opportunities.

Whadaya think?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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13 Responses to Boosting Self Esteem

  1. wes says:

    Self-esteem comes from doing things that are “esteemable.” Or something like that. When esteem is based on the fleeting…looks, popularity, clothes whatever, then one ends up w/ low self-esteem.

    As a dad I am forever telling my kids how smart, how cute, how strong, how brave, how beautiful, how studly they are…But I also challenge them to step up and do things they think they are not capable of doing. Things they don’t really want to do or try. Stuff “nobody else is doing.”

    I can see the difference it makes even in my 2nd grad daughter. She is learning to take risks and developing confidence in her abilities in the process.

    Too many lazy parents…

    Too many over-protective parents…

    Too much following the crowd…

    Wes

  2. jon forrest says:

    this is why i love this site so much. when i read david’s yc thing, i decided to talk about self esteem. i was going to illustrate my point by showing them a baseball i bought at the same time barry bonds baseball was auctioned. mine $15 his $750,000. what gives it it’s worth? something is only worth what someone is willing to give for the item. blahbla… that’s where we get our worth. BUT it just wasn’t practical enough, like you said. “serving”, that is the practical end of our reason for existence. that’s why stars have foundations(and for the write-off). they have had everything else and know that that “stuff” doesn’t give you worth. but they still miss real service that is the service to
    God. thanks for Awesome stuff

  3. Mike Avants says:

    Service is the key to much that ails teens. Going back to Christian Smith’s landmark research that was detailed in his books Soul Searching there was something that he concluded that grabbed me. He talked about articulation being a key for faith formation in teenagers.

    What better laboratory to see the things of knowledge that we give them each week experimented with and seen formed in their own life and fashion that providing ways for them to serve. For me the application is this: If they hear they may not always understand how to flesh it out.

    My job as a youth pastor is incomplete until I not only instill it as theory, but I always have to help them flesh it out in practice.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Great post – I really appreciate how you brought it all back together with a very practical solution.

    Finding better ways to minister to the hearts of teen girls is always something I’m interested in. I will definitely be showing this article to my wife who helps minister to the girls.

  5. Kim Burrows says:

    Serving is definately a great way to build self esteem. I have a 14 year old daughter whos dad has given up custody of her and her sister and only sees them every second weekend – when he feels like it. Hence her self esteem has been low. She wants to be a vetinary nurse and part of getting into the university course is to have had some volunteer time with the SPCA or other animal organisation. She rung the SPCA and now has a job with them. The transformation in her is incredible. She is now giving something back and in that she feels like she is contributing and her self esteem has lifted. Even if it is helping out animals.
    Our youth group this year is going to be focussing on community projects – helping those less fortunate. Its great to see the kids enthusiasm and the absolute “buzz” they get from it

  6. Julia Bowman says:

    Jonathan, your article really grabbed my attention and as a young woman and a youth ministry major, girls’ low self esteem is one of things that definitely grabs at my heart. While I agree that serving is always helpful like you suggested, I also have another practical idea from my own personal experience in this area. If you want to help raise a girl’s self esteem, give her a genuine compliment. Because a simple “You look nice today” from a significant male in her life will go a long way. After, I don’t really care if my mother or one of my gal friends thinks I look nice, but if one of my guy friends or my dad mentions that I look beautiful, it makes my day. I think that guys just need to realize that just b/c you compliment a girl does not that you like her/are hitting on her. It’s just a compliment! But those compliments can go a long way in restoring a girl’s self-esteem and helping her see herself as the beautiful creature that God has made her to be.

  7. Brian says:

    I like your website and find it full of great resources. But I want to take issue with this article. Essentially, what you’re saying is that girls need to do something worthwhile so they can feel good about themselves. If this is the prescription without the proper, continuous, and expansive explanation of the Gospel of God’s grace then you will be just giving them another “law” to try and meet. Note that the world is giving them a “law” to meet as well with it’s messages about how to be “worthy”. I see comments of people who are saying “it works”. Sure, you’re providing an alternative to the world. But it’s not God’s grace and mercy. Certainly, service is good but only if it is motivated as a response to the free gift of forgiveness, righteousness, and restoration that God offers us through Jesus. David’s answer “assumes” the gospel. Please don’t assume the gospel. When I work with youth I know many who can partially parrot the gospel to me verbally, but they clearly do not believe it. They say they do, but their lives say something else. Youth pastors and parents need to primarily live and breath the gospel in all it’s manifold wonder and power. And yes, parents must turn off, as best they can, the “crap” of the world’s message of “law” pouring into their kid’s lives through the media.

  8. Brian. Thanks for the comment. I reread that section to try to understand where you got that impression. I don’t want to miscommunicate.

    I’m sorry you misunderstood what we said. You wrote, “Essentially, what you’re saying is that girls need to do something worthwhile so they can feel good about themselves.” That is not at all what we are saying.

    What we’re saying is that when people are focused on “self,” they will never be fulfilled. People will be far less worried about how they “measure up” when they put aside “self.”

    This is even more evident when kids that are believers discover their spiritual gifts and begin using them. I’ve never met anyone more fulfilled then those who discover their gifts and begin using them for the glory of Christ.

    This is nothing to do with works. We are saved by grace, through faith. But as God begins to renew our mind and change us, we no longer looks to temporary fulfillment from this world (including looks, status, stuff) … instead we look to God for fulfillment.

    I hope that explains our thoughts a little more clearly. I think we’re on the same page.

    I think I might tweak a sentence at the end to make sure that others don’t misunderstand.

  9. jon forrest says:

    brian, i appreciate your enthusiasm for the Gospel, and believe me, i share it. but i think this discussion assumes that the gospel has already been established with these kids. you ( and i did this too, see my earlier comment) are ending the discussion too soon. i couldn’t teach a lesson on self esteem and end it on “Jesus loves you, now love yourself too.” that is amazingly true and important but, it doesnt help me on thursday. i need some mmmph, or nitty gritty or practicallity, or whatever you call it. it’s biblical too, “14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” james 2 this is the gospel in action.

  10. Owen Sallee says:

    Thanks, Jonathan and co, for adding the blog feature!

    Seems to me that relevant role models are also key here. Youthworkers with intentional, incarnational presence in students’ lives demonstrate a stronger connection to students’ reality, and have a greater chance of speaking truth that’s perceived as truth by young people We have the opportunity to help young people when we identify with them in their struggles, help them process and understand the cultural messages at work, and encourage them to find more authentic, God-honoring role models and examples.

  11. Shelly Valdez says:

    Jonathan, I really liked the article, and as a mother of 5 daughters (ages 17-28) and a Youth Minister for the last 13 years I have had a lot of dealings with young women. I agree very much that getting out of the “me” mode is a great way to help the teens, including the girls, see themselves in the bigger picture of life, not just in their immediate world.
    But it is just a beginning step to the power of self esteem for many of these girls. Nothing is more empowering than love. My father always taught me “that you have to learn to love yourself before you can truly love another”. I heard that many times growing up and it empowered me so much-it taught me that I had to take responsibility for my own life and happiness-that message together with my great religious upbringing was a powerful combination, so when I went through the ups and downs of life-when God brought me to my knees- I loved myself enough, felt worthy enough to call on Him for all the help I needed.
    Help our young women “learn” to love themselves by loving them and teaching them to have an intense prayer life. Also, encourage father-daughter interactions if possible, by inviting the Dad’s to come along on the service projects and work right alongside them.
    In our crazy family of so many girls, the most important relationship during the teen years has been the wonderful relationship they have with their Dad (the other half of the Youth Ministry team). A Godly man raising daughters is a great thing, just remember not to hold on too tight because if we are so protected that we are never brought to our knees then we might not experience the depth of God’s love for us-the ultimate and most important source of empowering love.

  12. Great post – I really appreciate how you brought it all back together with a very practical solution.

  13. Annette Ashworth says:

    Encouraging a teen to serve definitely is a key in self-esteem – but there is a deeper issue that effects both self-esteem and service… PURPOSE – WHO/WHAT I AM AND WHY GOD CREATED ME. When I understand these things my judgement of self and my motivations in life take on a whole new perspective. We need to teach our teens who they are and why they are here – give them purpose.