Self-esteem and the next generation

Dr. Asha Fields Brewer

As a child, did you watch your parents get ready for church? Perhaps you recall the way Mom looked at herself in the mirror after applying her favorite lipstick. Or maybe you caught Dad giving his blazer a final tug, signifying that he was ready to face the day. Watching our role models made us want to grow up and be just like them.

These are memories we observed, but consider how you were impacted by what you overheard as well. Like when Mom criticized her wrinkles or when Dad complained about his gut. These seemed like innocent remarks at the time, but how do these remarks affect the young ears who are listening? Proverbs 22:6, ESV, reminds us that children learn norms and expectations at home and in the community. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

When we as adults give ourselves this mirror talk, what are we training up our children to do and believe? Do we speak words of empowerment, emphasizing what we love about ourselves, and passing on this esteem to the next generation? Or do we speak words of judgment and comparison, passing on this degraded esteem and disappointment to them instead? How are we training up their esteem?

I’m not saying we can’t be honest with ourselves about what we see and what we’d like to change. However, we must be mindful that the esteem we have as parents, older siblings, mentors, and role models, is observed and absorbed by the young ones who look up to us. If we are struggling with loving and appreciating who we are, then we expose them to this as “the norm.” We teach them that it’s normal to hate who you see in the mirror. It’s normal to nitpick at your God-given features. It’s normal to tug, tap, and pull at any areas of your body that you aren’t too proud of. It’s normal to be disappointed with how the Creator made you. 

How confusing is the message to a teenage girl when her Sunday School teacher quotes that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made”, yet her mother complains about being too short, lacking curves, and desiring to be more attractive? Or perhaps a young man overhears his dad complain about lacking muscles and brawn instead of honoring his ability to lead his family.  

Consider where your image influences came from growing up. Sure, some were from TV and similar media outlets, but a lot of them came from home and community. As we enjoy this season of celebrating our mothers and fathers, consider how you celebrate you. What have you been trained up to do? And how can you positively train up the esteem of generations to come?

Dr. Asha Fields Brewer is a Creator of Healthy Conversations. As a national speaker and published author, she teaches the busy & overwhelmed how to live life abundantly. She is the owner of the Temple Fit Co. wellness agency, which is home to 25+ wellness speakers and fitness instructors. Tune in to “Temple Fit Devotions with Dr. Asha” on Wednesdays at 4 pm on Hallelujah 95.3 FM.