• R – Resilience
• A – Attitude/Adaptability
• I – Independence
• S – Self-respect
• E – Empowerment
After counseling and interviewing hundreds of young girls, I have an understanding of what they face in the world and how they feel inside. Trying to maneuver the landscape of your everyday life as a teenage girl is tough. Without tools, strategies, or resources it’s nearly impossible. I see RAISE as your toolkit. RAISE is an acronym for five components to building healthy self-esteem: resilience, attitude, independence, self-respect, and empowerment.
It’s probably no surprise that teens rate the disapproval of their friends and classmates as the most difficult to experience. Most will avoid it at any cost. This is where peer pressure can come into play if they don’t have a strong sense of self or healthy self-esteem. Resilience, or self-perseverance, is a great defense against peer pressure and bullying. We are all resilient in our own way, it’s just a matter of taking those “resilient” behaviors and translating them to other situations and environments. Resilience doesn’t have to come naturally. Instead, we can learn skills to help us persevere and practice them along the way.
Maintaining a positive attitude can enhance self-esteem. Simply accepting that we all have good days and bad days is a start. In addition, adapting to different situations is key. Developmentally, the teen years are extremely complex. Dynamics among friendships start to shift and extreme self-awareness takes hold. Not to mention there’s a good chance their hormones are going crazy! All of these conditions create a concoction just waiting for disaster. Teens may deal with these changes in many different ways. They may become moody, crying over big and small issues, they may begin to challenge parents, or they may feel sad or depressed for seemingly no reason. These can all be very scary experiences and cause extreme confusion.
Adolescents need to remember that they aren’t alone; sometimes just knowing that can make all the difference in the world. Teen girls talk about a lot of things with their friends, but based on my research, feeling sad or lonely for no real reason isn’t usually one of them. So, who or what can they turn to?
Independence can mean a lot of things. For the purposes of RAISE, I look at independence as the ability to make your own choices instead of blindly following the crowd. The way teens become independent is by taking on challenges, big or small. Pushing themselves further than they thought they could go and realizing what they are made of is powerful stuff. Sometimes they will succeed and sometimes they will fail. The important part is to try something new and not give up. The more you try, the more you grow, regardless of the outcome.
From this growth comes trust in yourself and the decisions that you make. When we make healthy decisions for ourselves, we begin to build confidence without second-guessing. Through this process, confidence will blossom, resulting in more independent actions and thoughts. Teens will begin to look inward more often for answers instead of seeking guidance from friends and peers. This is the height of independence. We want teens to feel strong in their views and trust their decisions.
Self-respect is about putting yourself first. Many teens confuse this with selfishness. Self-respect and selfishness have nothing to do with one another. Often, females are unconsciously trained to put others first, to nurture. We don’t want to hurt others’ feelings so we suppress our own interests and needs. Females will often base their actions around pleasing others. This is not healthy or beneficial.
Teens sometimes have difficulty with the concept of self-respect because they tie it in too closely with acceptance by their peers. They may believe that all of their friends have their best interests in mind, but that’s not always the case. Remember that true friends love us for who we are, help us through difficult times, and even talk us out of making mistakes. They would never put us in harm’s way for the sake of popularity or make us the butt of a joke for a cheap laugh. Sometimes teens confuse authentic friendships and intimate relationships with those that can actually be quite damaging. If I asked you to define self-respect, you probably could. However, many teens have a difficult time turning their definitions into action. They don’t understand what self-respect looks like in practice. As adults, it’s important to show them concrete examples of authentic relationships and self-respect.
This is the culmination of the previous four techniques. If RAISE is done correctly and consistently, a teen should begin to feel more empowered. If they feel empowered, then they feel strong in their decisions, opinions, and individuality. Empowerment has a component that can be nurtured and encouraged by outside factors. During the critical teen years, youth look to their peers more than anyone else for approval; however, ultimate approval comes from a place deep within that says, “I’m OK with me. I accept me for who I am.” Getting to that place can be tough for many of us, but the payoff is healthy self-esteem.
Approval or acceptance is also reinforced by positive interactions with parents, teachers, and coaches. Teens need adults who will reinforce their successes and help them through their failures. Adults that will give them room to grow and build their individuality. Eventually, their confidence will blossom and ultimately – regardless of success or failure – they will grow strong, trust in themselves, and look inward for approval.
Once teens can identify how and when to use each component of RAISE, I truly believe they will be on their way to healthier living.