“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men!”
The damage done during our childhood has a long-lasting impact on our lives. It shapes us as people, defines our relationships, and sometimes leaves echoing grief lingering on for the rest of our lives. In middle school, my relentless struggle with mathematics and fear of public speaking emanated in me a deep feeling of not being good enough. The demons of being flawed and imperfect started controlling my mind gradually, and my teen life’s definition became “not enough”! As a young girl who craved to be noticed and whom teachers found convenient to ignore, I thought I did not belong.
The struggle is pervasive. We witness people with stupendous careers, stunning beauty, endless bank balances, hustling and fighting for something we all have but seldom embrace- self-worth! It is not uncommon to hear about a top-performing student falling into depression after scoring less in one semester or a celebrity who leads a life full of stardom, dying in loneliness or because of drug addiction. We scuffle because we try to find our worth in the eyes of others and outer accomplishments.
As an educationist, my heart goes out to the beautiful young souls when I see them struggling to be loved, appreciated, and even accepted for who they are because they feel they are not worthy of it. As educators, we not only have the opportunity to touch lives but also have the power to transform them. We need to make some conscious efforts to ensure that we raise a generation of children who would not lose their grit because of failures. A generation who is resilient, who is aware that we all are imperfect but at the same time, knows that we are still worthy and enough for who we are. Schools play a significant role in shaping the personalities of the students.
Here are some suggestions that we could follow to help students develop a positive self-concept and ultimately embrace self-worth:
As early as preschool and kindergarten, we teach students to be nice to others and to share, but we are rarely taught how to be kind to ourselves. With the power of self-compassion, we can move through difficult times with more ease and set and achieve our goals without getting stumped by the obstacles. This could be achieved by activities focusing on mindfulness, meditation, and practising gratitude. Teaching children to write meaningful reflections can help them listen to their inner voice and fight the critic within. It helps in reducing anxiety and making peace with self and others, hence enhancing self-worth.
Adolescence craves novelty and popularity. There is a close association between social media and depression, anxiety, loneliness, and FOMO (fear of missing out) among teens. Regardless of what teens choose to do online, many of our schools are also structured for social comparison, like labelling and grouping students based on ability are some examples of the same.
Here are some alternatives designed to reduce social comparison in schools:
* Provide opportunities to revise and redo assignments.
* Avoid ability grouping as much as possible.
* Focus on individual growth and improvement.
* Acknowledge students’ small successes.
Not every child is cut out to excel in academics. Our schools need to have a focus not only on recognizing individual talents but also on nurturing uniqueness in each child. Many children lack self-worth or confidence when they are judged with universal parameters of academic excellence and their own talents go unexplored leading them to frustration. Talk to the children about their personal values and priorities. Celebrate their talents and tailor activities and instruction around their abilities as much as possible. Give them opportunities to succeed.
Finally, when teens reach out to others, they are more likely to feel better about themselves. Researchers found that adolescents who are kind and helpful in general have high self-esteem. Schools can take the initiative by giving them opportunities and projects to contribute to the community. When teens regularly contribute to a larger cause, they learn to think beyond themselves, which may ultimately help them be more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As many teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, we need to help and cheer them on as they develop positive mental habits and strengths that will support them throughout their lives. We all are imperfect; still, we are worthy of all the beautiful things in life.
Universal Wisdom School