Guest Column

September 1, 2013

Program builds teens' esteem

In June, I wrote a column about the importance of “doing nothing” and its relationship to creative thinking. Amanda, my behavioral neuroscientist friend from Oxford, contributed most of the scientific insight.

Okay, she contributed all of the scientific insight.

Amanda and I spoke recently, and the topic turned to self-esteem in teenagers and pre-teenagers.

We talked about what happens when a child becomes a teenager. Amanda explained that beyond the obvious (that the teenage years mark the beginning of the transition when a person changes from a child to an adult) a teenager’s brain is still developing in terms of:

▶ Advanced reasoning skills.

▶ Abstract thinking.

▶ Meta-cognition (making sense of everything).

Collectively known as cognitive development.

The effects on a teenager as their brain begins to develop cognitively are significant, especially since “children are maturing earlier than they used to” and that changes in technology have speeded up a young person’s social development. Amanda rattled off about a dozen effects, but the one that hit home was “they develop greater sensitivity to their weight and general appearance.”

The reason it hit home was that it reminded me of a meeting I had earlier this year with Colleen Lemza from SUNY Plattsburgh and a group of her public-relations students. Colleen introduced me to a program they conduct each year for young girls. The program, Shine On, is designed to help develop self-esteem, self-confidence and resiliency in young girls.

One thing that really resonated was that both Amanda and Colleen cited the media’s influence and the negative impact that the media can have on self-image.

Amanda cited several studies from Duke University, the American Psychological Association, the Future Foundation and the National Eating Disorders Association that revealed:

▶ 59 percent of 5th-to-12th-grade girls were unhappy with their body shape.

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