In an age of online pressures, celebrity culture and lad points, it’s more challenging than ever for young people to be confident and secure in who they were made to be. Rachel Gardner, founder of Romance Academy, shares why we must try harder to raise esteem in young people.
This afternoon I gave a bunch of girls some plain white t-shirts and the challenge of covering them with words that young people use to abuse each other with.
‘You really want us to go there?’ one girl asked, eyebrow raised.
‘Yep.’ I replied.
‘Ok’, she shrugged, and proceeded to write word after word of things people have said to her. All hurtful. All lies. All sadly a part of the daily experience of so many children and young people.
Where home once provided some relief from the relentless bullying of the school corridor, the online world means that the harassment never stops. Whether it’s comments of ‘you’re ugly’ or people ganging up on you because you don’t wear the right gear, many young people feel oppressed by the constant barrage of comparisons and judging from peers and strangers.
I am a huge fan of advances in technology, and we didn’t need the invention of social media to tell us that hurt people hurt people. But if you wanted to ensure that a whole generation would come to believe that they’re not good enough, sexy enough, popular, clever, funny or significant enough, you’d invent internet technology. With the capacity for being hooked up and plugged in 24/7 it’s the perfect delivery system for the messages and beliefs that erode self-esteem.
We now have a generation of young people who are unsure, not just of who they’re supposed to be and what they can do, but whether they are worthy of love. The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index (Jan 2017) reveals how many young people feel trapped by their circumstances, with over half (61%) feeling that a lack of self-confidence holds them back. Worryingly 12% of young people claim they don’t know anyone who really cares about them.
Self-esteem is hard to calculate, but vital to pay attention to. Young people with low self-esteem struggle to see their own value or believe that they have anything of worth to offer the world around them. They get stuck in victim mentality, fear the uncertainty of their future and struggle to trust or take positive risks for fear of being ridiculed or rejected.
These are the young people TLG exist for. These are the young people whose lives take on a new direction because people who work for, support and pray for TLG have this relentless and unstoppable desire to call out of children and young people their intrinsic worth and limitless potential.
After covering the T-shirts with the labels of lies,
I asked the girls what they thought the impact of these words on young people are.
‘Nothing.’ said one.
‘Makes young people feel nothing, or feel like they’re nothing?’ I asked.
‘Feel like we’re nothing.’ one girl admitted, before adding, ‘And I suppose it works, because that’s why we’re talking about this. But I know they’re not true.
I know that because I come here.’
I was struck by her use of that word; here.
As we kept on talking it became clear that for these young people, here is the youth centre where the lies could be interrupted; here are the safe and trustworthy people who really ‘see’ and then reflect back to them an image of themselves that they don’t glimpse in too many other places.
If only every child and young person in the UK could have access to the places and people who could help them begin to discover their God-given, intrinsic worth and grow their self-esteem. Because a young person with a growing self-esteem begins to believe they have value and learns to trust that they might just have something to offer the world. They develop the ability to say no and develop the resilience that enables them to learn from their mistakes. They realise they have skills they can hone, dreams they can nurture, and an incredible capacity to love others and be generous in how they live their one, wild, precious life.
Years of working with young people has shown me that good self-esteem begins with God-esteem; the ability to see ourselves as God sees us. There’s such a profound security that comes from knowing we are created with value and potential by a God who knows us and is near to us.
Whether our young people share our faith or not, helping them see themselves as they truly are is one of the greatest callings any of us can know. This is why I will never stop raising self-esteem in young people, and why I’m one of TLG’s greatest fans.
Rachel is a youth worker, founder of the Romance Academy, the President of the Girls’ Brigade and Relationship Lead at Youthscape. Bestselling author of a number of books for teens and young adults, Rachel is a keen campaigner on youth related issues. She’s married to Jason and they are raising their daughter and living for Jesus in North London.