Addressing self-esteem at youth group

Self-image is an issue that is sometimes thought to mostly affect girls, but recently I am becoming more and more aware of just how much this affects guys, too. Of course girls feel an extreme amount of pressure from our society to look a certian way in order to be approved by people, but guys probably feel just as much pressure from our society, too. We’re told that men are tough, insensitive, physically strong, and in control. Several times lately I’ve observed guys comparing themselves to other guys to evaluate how they match up against what is accepted. Teenage guys probably struggle with self-esteem and insecurities about their bodies just as much as girls do.

At youth group we often try to compliment students and build their esteem with comments like, “Hey Jonny, I really like your hair! How much gel did that take?” Or, “Sally, that’s a beautiful skirt. You look really nice in it.” The problem with compliments like this is that it again places the focus on physical appearance for approval. We’re essentially confirming that what a student looks like is important in order to be verbally praised. What they really need to know, however, is that we approve and accept them because of who they are, not because of what they look like.

So, instead maybe we should build students’ self-image by complimenting their character. “Jonny, I saw how you helped Sally up when she tripped a minute ago. That was very admirable of you.” Or, “Sally, I’m proud of you for telling the truth when asked about cheating on your algebra test.” Maybe then we can reinforce the fact that what’s on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. Character trumps appearance any day.

Posted on April 18, 2006

  • Very good to think about. We tried to get our kids to think about this in the early parts of our purity series. My fiancee shared with our guys about how rude comments from guys that were made as early as elementary or middle school had stuck with her for years — that she did not forget them easily.

    I think the guys were pretty captivated and their eyes were opened to the power of their own tongues. Two guys will make cracks at each other, hit each other and then go play Halo and never think about it again. (in general) But girls are far more likely to remember a negative comment, let it eat at them, and affect their relationships in the future.

  • Good thoughts here. I was recently rebuffed by some of my teens when I commented on someone's shoes. I said, "Cool kicks, I really like them." to which the teen said, "Thanks, I like you." That really put me in my place.

    Similarly with the guy/girl self esteem paradigm, my wife says that girls struggle with lust much like guys. She talks about how girls look at other girls in magazines and F2F and they actually lust after other girls bodies. They want their bodies and work to get them.

    Thanks for the thoughts. It has me thinking.

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