I was talking to my teenaged son the other day about some trust issues we’ve been having. He had been less than honest about his whereabouts and some other things as well. As a result, he lost a lot of his privileges, and was told that he really broke the trust and damaged our relationship. I explained that the burden is now on him to earn it back.
Strangely, he seemed confused. He questioned exactly what he had done wrong and inquired about how to earn back the trust. This prompted a different conversation. It was about the image of himself that he has put forth. I explained to him that your image is like a picture of yourself. You create this picture, this image, and you do it with everyone you encounter: parents, teachers, friends, coaches, etc. He wasn’t painting a beautiful image of himself lately, and not just at home.
He had described having trouble with a teacher at school who “didn’t like” him. When I asked why she doesn’t like him, he said, “It’s because of how I am”. I then asked, “So how are you?” to which he replied, “You know, it’s hard for me. I get distracted. I don’t always pay attention and I talk a lot in class to my friends. Sometimes I forget to do my homework, and I don’t always do that well on my tests.” I wondered out loud then why she might not like someone who painted this type of picture of himself. He finally seemed to get it. We then discussed how he could erase that picture and paint a better one, both at home and at school.
So what is your image? What are you putting out there? What messages are you sending to others about who you are and what kind of person you are? Here are some things to keep in mind when you think about your image.
- Are you the goofy class clown or the serious teacher’s pet? What messages do you think either of these sends about you to your teachers and your friends? Sometimes, while your friends might think you are hilarious, your teacher might not appreciate your humor, especially if it is disruptive. So, while your friends like you for being silly, your teacher is finding you to be a trouble maker and not liking you much. When your teacher doesn’t like you, he or she will be less likely to cut you slack or help you out. Similarly, while a teacher might love the serious student, you friends might get a completely different message from that. They might find you uptight and stressed out. Think about the different messages your behavior sends to others.
- Are you a trustworthy person? Most teens actually want and need their parents trust in order to do the things they want to. Yet it seems teens have a lot of trouble actually being worthy of that trust. What messages are you sending out about trust? How can you gain more trust? Do you always keep your word and do what you say you will do and what you’re supposed to do? Are you always where you say you will be and with whom you say you are with? Do you do all your homework and studying? These are all things that build trust.
- What is your reputation with your friends? Are you a partier, a stoner, a nerd or a “slut”? Do you like the reputation you currently have? What have you done to create it, and what can you do to change it if you don’t like it? How can you get the reputation you want to have? Think about the kind of person you want to be perceived as, and then figure out what are the qualities of that person? Begin exhibiting those behaviors and beliefs, and you can be the person you want to be.
- Actions speak much louder than words. It’s one thing to say you’re a good friend, good student, trustworthy person, good kid, etc. Are your actions consistent with your words? Sometimes for teens, it is really hard to back up the words with corresponding actions. For example, my son wants good grades, but often forgets to do his homework or doesn’t study enough. That does not allow him to earn the grades he says he desires. He wants my trust, but he frequently lies. You cannot have it both ways. Think about what this really means.
As teens, this can all be difficult to process and even harder to make good decisions on a regular basis. Teens are known for making impulsive and self-serving decisions. Just try to reflect on this, slow down a little, think before you act, and most importantly, make things right when you mess up. Nobody is perfect, but everyone can take responsibility for their actions.