Last week I wrote that my three communication classes are studying about self-concept by focusing on how we compare ourselves to others. A second theory we studied, called the "Reflected Appraisal Theory," was one these high school juniors had no problem memorizing.
"I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am." Sam I am. (I can't resist.)
My students begin by writing a response to this question: "Who am I?" Laboring to describe themselves honestly, many chose phrases illustrating their lack of confidence and feelings of insecurity.
One girl stunned her classmates by scripting that everyone hated her. Following that activity, they were to list five adjective/noun combinations that label them. Personal examples I shared were "worrying parent," "trustworthy wife," "fun grandmother," "trying teacher" and "slow runner."
They also were to indicate where each of those labels came from -- who or what was responsible for making them think that of themselves.
Many psychologists say our self concept comes from three areas: pivotal moments (things out of our control); significant others (good or bad); and choices we make. Based on that theory, my students were to make lists in those categories and turn them in, with my promise that I would not share them with their classmates.
"Pivotal moments" included some positives, but there were also the following negatives: "My mom's a drug addict;" "I was picked on and beaten up in kindergarten because of my race;" "Being 'tampered with' as a child;" "When my parents argue nonstop;" "Being raised in the foster care system;" "The first rejection and ultimate abuse by my mother;" "Living on my own;" "My dad leaving" (That one appeared several times); "My mom's multiple marriages;" "My dad's girlfriend says rude things to me when he isn't around, but my dad doesn't believe me;" and "My grandma coming to live with us."
Most included the death of a grandparent.
I couldn't help but wonder how many of these descriptors might have appeared on my classmates' lists when I was in high school.
Times have certainly changed. All but a handful of my students are dealing with a minimum of one serious "pivotal" issue, and far too many listed at least one significant other as being extremely critical or cruel.
When it came to choices made, there were more positives than negatives. Several students mentioned participating in specific classes, clubs and sports, having a grandparent who loved them unconditionally, picking the right crowd to hang with, and asking Jesus Christ into their lives. I drew happy faces when they wrote things like these: "I chose to quit drugs;" "I chose to never let my past decide who I will become;" "I try to live a life for Jesus when I have parents that don't know him;" "I'm saving myself for marriage;" or "being the bigger person in tough situations."
Most of the students --even those who wrote more negatives than positives -- are vocal about this activity being helpful.
Some have learned to mask their pain so that not even their closest friends know what they revealed on this assignment, yet in some cases, what they have shared is so hurtful that I ask to meet with them privately, encouraging them to speak with our counselors or get involved in a church youth group.
Follow up is my favorite time. That's when we talk about never allowing our self worth to be formed by someone or something seeking to destroy us.
Occasionally my students ask the best way to do that, and I tell them the method I use -- to understand how much I am loved by God, that in my life, He's the ultimate audience that counts.
I pray I can be an instrument to help these teens know the same.