I recently read a letter that was given to my 12 year-old daughter from a friend of hers. It was meant to celebrate my daughter’s character and applaud her for being a good friend. That message was definitely not lost on me. But, I couldn’t help but take pause over the underlying current of the letter. There were bigger implications here, and as parents, I sincerely hope you will take note of my message today.
The letter started off well enough. I felt pride for the young woman my daughter is becoming. Embers of love radiated outward at the realization that some of the lessons I teach and the values I stand for are taking root and blossoming in this wonderfully empathetic individual. I was thrilled for the strength of her young friendships and the content of her character.
But then there was this:
“You are my ONLY friend.”
“You are like a gift from God and I would absolutely die without you.”
“Don’t ever leave me because my world would collapse if you weren’t in it.”
“Everyone else has abandoned me and you are the only person I can trust.”
“I can’t just be myself unless I am around you.”
“You are the only person that makes me happy.”
Repeatedly. For two pages. And, I thought, “Woah! Woah! Wooooaaahhh!” That’s a LOT of expectation and puts a ton of pressure on my daughter!
My heart kind of did a flip-flop and then settled somewhere around my navel.
Some of this letter and the outpouring of emoticons, emphasis, and exclamation points can be categorized as typical ego-driven, melodramatic ‘tween kinds of stuff. I remember those days when all of your senses tend to be magnified as hormones make their erratic and powerful presence felt. Looking back, adolescence equates to absolutes for the next seven years or so, and everything (I mean EVERYTHING) can be identified as either the best freaking thing that ever happened or the absolute end of the Earth as they know it!
But, there are the deeper meanings behind this letter that go beyond drama and adulation, hormones and hysteria, and that is what I hope you will ponder.
I do my best to teach my daughters to stand on their own two feet and be their OWN best friends. Not necessarily a popular viewpoint, but I don’t want them to ever think that they need a particular friend or a boy to define who they are and how worthy they are of love and affection. Self-love is critically important, yet largely undervalued and under-taught. It is a really difficult message to convey these days, in the era of same-ness and dependency, but I still characterize it as one of our core family values. I want my children to know that they create their own worth and they should not be defined by or dependent on another human being for happiness, security, validation, or love. Should they find themselves alone, I want them to know that they are enough and they don’t need an army of reinforcements. Their individual lights should ALWAYS shine, regardless of who is (or isn’t) standing in close proximity.
I sincerely encourage you to teach the same (and to also take stock of the non-verbal messages you are sending via your own relationships). Whether you have boys or girls is irrelevant. Each child needs to know that they are the sole source of their most divine and unique gifts, shown how to tap into those gifts at an early age, and encouraged to stand on their own two feet regardless of what life throws at them. That is the birthplace of individuality and self-esteem, and when kids possess a firm foundation in those two things, they are infrequently rattled and thrown off course.
I have also noticed that words like “friend” and “love” have been cheapened by the prevalence of social media. It used to be a privilege to be categorized as someone’s friend. To be someone’s friend was an honor; based on trust, face-to-face interactions, and mutual respect. If words were sold in stores, “friend” would now appear on the back of aisle 16 in Target, emblazoned with a big red clearance sticker. “Friend” would be given away at countless Walmart registers. “Friend” would be made in China, mass-produced by slave labor, not meant to last, and sold for a song. Same goes for “love.”
So, we have reached the age where I have to explain to my children that people are not “friends” just because they can like your photos on Instagram. Actually, ‘explain’ is putting it mildly — I mostly drill it into their heads. Because, if unguided, they would begin to measure their worth by how many “likes” a photo gets, who commented on their status, and who retweeted their tweet. Their worth should always, always, always be measured by their character and their contributions. If not given this information, they might also become less selective in who they choose to spend their time with and my desire for them is to surround themselves with people of equal or greater character and values. People who lift them up and not drag them down. I would love for you to share this message with your children and give them the tools to help them live it…it is critical for their self-esteem and personal empowerment!
All this being said, I will keep encouraging my daughter to be a friend to this person. Not her only friend, but a good friend. However, the biggest gift she can give her friend is the belief in her own abilities and the knowledge that she, in fact, CAN stand on her own without any horrific repercussions. She can help her friend find her confidence, her voice, and her inner power. That is the message that I will help my daughter craft through kindness, compassion, and a loving heart.
Final thought: your children are being pummeled by messaging all day long. Often negative. You might instill the best and most uplifting messages, only to have it completely undone in seconds by a teacher or an unkind peer. Make it a point to be the most valuable and repetitive message….they need you now more than ever.
With so much love,
P.S. This is such an important topic and I am running summer camps on it in both Franklin and Norfolk in July. I strongly encourage you to register your child! I know that sports camps are highly desired and habitual in the summer. But, life skills and a foundational moral compass is truly priceless and a gift that your child will carry with them forever. https://jennpipe.com/self-esteem-through-art/upcoming-events
I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a comment on the blog.