Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an internationally respected educator, award-winning author and a trusted online adviser, specializing in helping teens become people of good character who’ve got the social courage to do the right thing online and off. Annie is a return guest to my blog, who previously shared on her own teen eczema experience here.
This was originally a two-part series which had since been combined into one longer informative post.
Dermatologists recognized Self-Esteem concern for Teens
Marcie Mom: Dermatologists have told me that self-esteem is a concern for teenagers with eczema, and even asked me to do a teen graphic book (I did one for the toddlers here). Let’s try to tackle self-esteem in parts, so let’s get started!
What is Self-Esteem?
I understand that it’s very much to do with how one views himself/herself, can you explain this giving an example relevant to teens?
Annie: How one views oneself (on a physical level as well as on a personality/character level) is self-perception. Self-esteem, is the value we place on who we are. People with “low self-esteem” tend to shy away from challenges (speaking up, reaching out to others in friendship) because they may experience feelings of not “measuring up” for whatever reason. Most teens across the board, report feel ‘insecure’ to one degree or another at one time or another. They may think: “I’m not __________ enough.” You fill in the blank (hot, cool, smart, athletic, thin, rich, good, etc.) Obviously if a teen has a physical condition (like eczema) that is noticeable, it can make that girl or guy feel self-conscious. And that’s likely to have a negative impact on self-esteem.
But if that teen has a strong support system, among family and friends, plus personal strengths in the areas of abilities, talents, etc. then that can be a powerful counter-balance to whatever feelings he/she may have about the eczema.
What can you do about Self-Esteem?
Marcie Mom: Now, knowing what is self-esteem, I’m assuming the whole point is we can do something about it, something to improve it even for teenagers with eczema that is apparent on their skin.
What can a teenager do for himself to improve his self-esteem? And is there anything a parent can help in?
Annie: Real self-esteem comes from within. And typically that means a sense of satisfaction in one’s abilities. When a teen has opportunities to pursue his/her interests (sports, music, writing, dance, theater, art, etc.) then he/she is likely to have many moments of joy and pride. He/She may think “I can do that well!” and those occasions will build self-esteem. Does that make the eczema better? Probably not. But it will make it easier for the teen to deal with whatever emotions come with the territory, Teens with real self-esteem may feel “down” about the way their skin looks, but they don’t stay down for long.
Sharing about Teen Eczema
Marcie Mom: For a teenager with eczema, do you recommend that he/she take a different approach to let his/her friends know, depending on their personality? Or is there no need to openly share about eczema?
Annie: When I was dealing with eczema as a teen, I regret not ever having an open conversation with any of my friends about the conditions. We were close friends and shared so many teen secrets, hopes, dreams, but I somehow decided that I couldn’t talk about my eczema. Looking back, I realize that was a mistake on my part. My friends would not have rejected me. Rather than expending all that energy “hiding” the rashes on my arms or on my neck, if I had chosen to talk about it with a few close friends, I could have relaxed when I was with them.
So, yes, my advice is, that if you’ve got eczema, it’s not your fault and you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of! Educate people and you will find it easier for yourself in social situations.
There is power in honesty.
Social Media Posting on Eczema
Do you think that posting pictures of his/her eczema on facebook will help or worsen the pressures the teen is facing?
Annie: I don’t know the answer to that one. Facebook is a very public forum. And there is a group mentality of cruelty on social media. My gut reaction to your question is “no.” I don’t think that would be helpful. In fact, I think it would result in certain people using a teen’s honest posting as an opportunity to be disrespectful and insensitive. It’s a personal choice, of course, but I doubt that one would get the kind of universal acceptance that one was looking for. And then what? You’re left feeling hurt, embarrassed, and upset.
‘Cool’ with Eczema? How should Teen Respond to Outside World?
Marcie Mom: Now a tricky question – if a teenager is really bothered by his eczema and feels bad about it, should he hide it by appearing not bothered and ‘cool’ about his skin? Is it even possible to do so?
Annie: I’m not a fan of pretending… even though I was voted Class Actress my senior year in high school. That gives you an idea of what a very skilled “pretender” I was! But like I said before, pretending to be something you’re not expends a lot of emotional energy. It is also very stressful because, actually, to “appear” not bothered about your skin when you are actually extremely bothered… is probably going to stress you out even more! And one thing we know about stress is that it contributes to inflammation! Instead of pretending anything, and stressing yourself out, I would strongly suggest that any teen with eczema, look into studying meditation. There are simple beginning breathing techniques to calm the mind and body. And from there you can learn more about how your mind works and how thoughts (worries about your social standing and the way your skin looks, etc) can be managed so that they don’t control you.
Marcie Mom: Finally, I may not have asked the right questions, as it’s based on what I’ve learnt from other parents. Is there any aspect of teen eczema and self-esteem that I’ve missed out asking?
Annie: You’ve asked very thoughtful questions, Marcie. I thank you for this opportunity to share some of what I know with teens and their parents.
Marcie Mom: Thanks Annie for taking time to share your journey with us, teenage years are so difficult even for those without eczema and those with eczema would certainly appreciate your advice.