In Their Opinion...

Paul Grasso is the president and CEO of The Development Corporation, Clinton County, New York.

Program builds teens' esteem

By: Paul Grasso, Just Sayin'

In June, I wrote a column about the importance of “doing nothing” and its relationship to creative thinking. Amanda, my behavioral neuroscientist friend from Oxford, contributed most of the scientific insight.

Okay, she contributed all of the scientific insight.

Amanda and I spoke recently, and the topic turned to self-esteem in teenagers and pre-teenagers.

We talked about what happens when a child becomes a teenager. Amanda explained that beyond the obvious (that the teenage years mark the beginning of the transition when a person changes from a child to an adult) a teenager’s brain is still developing in terms of:

▶ Advanced reasoning skills.

▶ Abstract thinking.

▶ Meta-cognition (making sense of everything).

Collectively known as cognitive development.

The effects on a teenager as their brain begins to develop cognitively are significant, especially since “children are maturing earlier than they used to” and that changes in technology have speeded up a young person’s social development. Amanda rattled off about a dozen effects, but the one that hit home was “they develop greater sensitivity to their weight and general appearance.”

The reason it hit home was that it reminded me of a meeting I had earlier this year with Colleen Lemza from SUNY Plattsburgh and a group of her public-relations students. Colleen introduced me to a program they conduct each year for young girls. The program, Shine On, is designed to help develop self-esteem, self-confidence and resiliency in young girls.

One thing that really resonated was that both Amanda and Colleen cited the media’s influence and the negative impact that the media can have on self-image.

Amanda cited several studies from Duke University, the American Psychological Association, the Future Foundation and the National Eating Disorders Association that revealed:

▶ 59 percent of 5th-to-12th-grade girls were unhappy with their body shape.

▶ 47 percent of the same age group wanted to lose weight because of pictures they saw in fashion magazines.

▶ Between 5th and 9th grades, “gifted” girls downplayed their accomplishments because “being sexy was better than being smart.”

▶ 40 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls had already been on a diet.

Television, movies, magazines and the Internet all bombard young girls with images about what their bodies should look like. They portray images of girls in revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions as models of femininity for girls to emulate.

The problem is that the images aren’t realistic.

Most of the images are airbrushed versions of models who weigh 23 percent less than the average woman. Yet millions of young women believe that to be happy they need to look like the models they see in the media; many resort to unhealthy measures in an attempt to achieve an impossible goal.

If you’re a “Doubting Thomas,” take a couple of minutes and visit:

Now, back to Shine On and the work that Colleen and her students do.

Shine On started in 2010 with 90 elementary-school girls; last year 315 participated and they had to cut off enrollment.

Supported by volunteer mentors (there is a one-to-five ratio of mentors to girls) from sports teams, sororities and psychology and counseling majors, Shine On consists of 12 workshops designed to “develop resiliency, self-esteem and confidence.” Shine On believes that by working with girls at an early age, the girls are better able to handle social pressures later in life.

However, the program doesn’t stop there.

Shine On recognizes that parents play an important role in raising confident daughters. It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Therefore, Shine On offers workshops for parents where they can learn how to talk to their daughters about a variety of self-esteem issues. Parents armed with the proper skills and knowledge can create an environment that will help a young girl achieve her full potential.

Like many other problems, the solution often begins in the home.

Shine On makes a lot of sense and it’s affordable; their annual budget is less than $10,000, and there is no cost to the participants. One generous contributor has donated $2,500 to Shine On to jump start their fundraising.

Shine On deserves our support for both its social and economic impact.

Mark Twain once said, “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”

In its short existence, Shine On has made life less lonely for many young girls.

Paul Grasso is the president & CEO of The Development Corporation, Plattsburgh, N.Y.