I've been thinking about Amanda Todd. Not about the tragedy of a young girl taking her life, and not about the outpouring of support and rage on all social media networks and across schools and communities, although the idea of a story this sad going viral because of a YouTube video and perhaps encouraging similar events because of the mass response scares me. I'm thinking about Amanda Todd because I have a daughter, and I want to understand what brought this ordinary girl to such a drastic decision. The media is talking about bullying. Bullying is bad, and I commend the seriousness with which this issue is now treated in most schools across the country. Bullying creates an endless cycle of mistreatment and abuse that effects everyone. But from what I understand, this girl's bullying problems started from some bad choices she made while communicating with cretins on the Internet (who take advantage of young girls on a regular basis and should be prosecuted). So maybe parents should be more careful about what their children do on the Internet, but the deeper issue is why girls go seeking attention online in the first place.
My first thought is lack of self esteem. We blame society and ourselves for not having enough self esteem. There are articles all over the Internet, Dove campaigns, and tons of self analysis and criticism of media, the modelling industry, advertising companies, and everyone else who tells us what a perfect woman should be.
So what is self esteem? As I type this I realise that I equate the lack of it with pictures of thin models and I couldn't be more wrong. Self esteem is knowing who you are, it's liking the great things about you and improving the things that are not so good. It's about being a good person and pursuing your dreams and living a life that you are proud of. It is being happy to be you.
We are born without any preconceptions of what we should be, but as we become aware of the world and ourselves we start to think about how we are viewed. This isn't a bad thing, but if we also start to compare ourselves to others when we do not know who we are, what we like, where we are going, then we latch on to an ideal created by someone else and compare ourselves to a figment of the imagination, that's when the issues start.
I was reading an article in Psychology Today about the myth of girls losing their self esteem in adolescence (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-women/201001/the-truth-about-women-and-self-esteem). According to the study, there is no significant change in adoloescence, and girls although more "anxious about their appearance" are more confident than boys in terms of academic achievement. What seems to make a difference is support, "For both girls and boys, those who felt supported by parents, teachers, and friends in expressing their points of view felt they had a stronger voice".
Adolescence is such a fragile time because we emerge from that bubble of being completely unaware to the question, "who am I?". It is important to have people in our lives who help us become who we are and not tell us who we should be.
I want to build a relationship with my daughter that allows her to share doubts and problems, and I want to help her to understand that she is beautiful and if people tell her she isn't she just won't believe them. But most importantly, I want her to know who she is so that she can make her own choices and be a happy person.
My goals for my children are countless, but I want them to understand that they are loved and that they have people in their lives who think they are wonderful, can listen without judgement, and will provide help when they need it. I think I'm on the right track, I'll read some more and get back to you.