Revisiting Self-Esteem and Saving Our Children

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Nelson Mandela has been a hero for many years, an example of one with an extremely high sense of self-esteem.     He has always been grounded in his life’s purpose; he has not shown anger about the past, including being imprisoned for 27 years.  He did not exhibit anger about apartheid, just a determination to end it.  He spoke the same truth before all audiences.  Youngsters   can trust a Nelson Mandela.  We trusted him and consequently we love him.  We are in awe of those who demand our trust and love.  They provide the model for change.

Can we African-American parents strive to attain those qualities exhibited by Nelson Mandela?  Can we disentangle ourselves  spiritually  and mentally from  the current form of enslavement – “having possession of objects as our highest-held value while relationships among family and village/community  relationships (highest-held African value) crumble”,  evidenced by our children killing each other, parents waging feuds that  finance lawyers, judges  and  Family Court employees while fueling the fire that keeps parents at war and offspring reduced to  “emotional victims”, reducing their self-worth to their ability to wear the latest in colored sneakers.  And we can live on the blocks with families without establishing nurturing relationships and often spearheading negative campaigns against them.  There are opportunities to make a difference for our children beginning on the blocks where we live.  Each and every person has something to contribute…it’s simply a matter of ridding  emotional and mental clutter that has attention focused on what’s missing in others in an attempt to feel better about ourselves.  Our children need more and we can provide it by focusing, as Nelson Mandela did, on the goal and focusing on developing within ourselves the practice we expect from others.    Some assignments to start the process:

Parents can join with their child or children in search of their individual purpose.  That exercise in itself builds self-esteem from the age of two or three through 18.  Imagine as a child engaging with an adult voicing your interests and being taken seriously and listened to by adults.  Home must be the place where our children must learn that they matter.  Because of the emotional turbulence existing in many of our families, the community has a role to play in nurturing youth and in cases of severe emotional upheaval in the home, could be their source of emotional survival.  However, adults must be aware of possibilities and not consumed by giving their power to others.  Our children‘s future is literally in our hands.  When we can clearly state a purpose worthy of our lives, we can end the petty ways we relate to each other and instead become cheerleaders for ourselves, each other and for all our children.

A youngster’s willingness to listen and respect advice depends heavily on his ability to trust and feel accepted by the person giving it.  We want to build relationships of trust and acceptance early so that our children will respect and adopt our values.  Therefore, we must not be dictators and oppressors in our interactions with them.

When a four-year-old is having a tantrum and you’re tired and loaded down with packages, the desire might be to beat him until he stops.  That usually does not work.  So take a deep breath, count to ten, then with a measured calmness ask the child what s/he wants again.  Tell the child to keep a mental list of all the things s/he wants until you get home.  Continue talking about the list.  Suggest more things to add.  You are changing a mood, not a mind.  The child should become involved in making the list which is much more fun than yelling and screaming for both of you.

For many years, African-American parents ‘priority was ensuring their children stayed alive. This gave rise to “children should be seen and not heard” and “spare the rod – spoil the child”. These survival practices are still being used today.  While the circumstances have changed, our youth are an endangered species.  Poor self-esteem is a root cause.

Unintentionally, we damage our children’s self-esteem, training them for oppression – rather than liberation.  If our children are not permitted to question or state their opinions – even those that differ from ours – we teach them to accept without thought or challenge.  As a community of adults, parents or not, we can contribute to the self-esteem of one or more youth.  Share what you’re doing on your block.  parentsnotebook@yahoo.com