African American children are faced with many challenges in today's society. These challenges range from racism and academic achievement to family problems and lack of role models. But one of the most overlooked challenges facing today's young African Americans is their self-esteem or lack of it.
Self-esteem is the result of life experiences and is a product of an individual's early relationships,particularly with parents. Experts say teaching black children to build and maintain a positive self-esteem should begin in the home.
“Black families are the important center of values for black children,” says E. Hammond Oglesby,professor of social ethics and theology at Eden Seminary in Missouri. “One's guardians should be available as a resource for guidance and for instilling a positive self-worth. Our children need to recognize that parents are their first role models,not rap stars,” he adds.
Tony Porter,director of diction services at Nyack Hospital,and father of six,believes that he has to set the example for his kids. “Where I'm at as a black man is going to have a tremendous impact on my kids,” says Porter.
Porter has two daughters and realizes that he will set the example for their future relationships with men. He wants to ensure that his daughters are independent and self-sufficient,because as black women,not only will they have to deal with racism but with sexism,also.
Bronwyn Mayden is the executive director for the Campaign for Our Children,a non-profit organization in Maryland. She agrees with Porter,and says that fathers with daughters should let them know that they are cherished and beautiful so that they will not seek attention from other sources.
“It is important that adults show that they accept their children and care for them. Kids need to feel that they are important,says Mayden. “Let them know that they are a valuable part of the family by giving them tasks to do with the family. Involve them in setting the table,feeding the dogs,cooking and meal planning.”
Mayden adds that parents should be the primary role models for their children,not the people they see on television. “They want to know that their parents are there for them. Parents should be their advocates and their activists.”
Experts agree that instilling positive self-esteem in African American children should start not only start in the home but with the parents themselves.
Author Cheri Huber says that parents must deal with their own insecurities in order to instill self-esteem in their children. “Parents need to do the work inside themselves first and pass that on to their children,” says Huber,Author of “Regardless of What You've Been Taught to Believe… There's Nothing Wrong With You.”
Tony Porter agrees with Huber. He says that black men,especially black fathers have to get in touch with their own process of healing so that they can be role models to their children. He said that black men sometimes face the inability to express their fears and emotions about getting a job,dealing with discrimination and overcoming perceived inadequacies.
“It's without a doubt we live in a racist society. We as black men have to deal with our self-hate,self-doubt,shame,guilt,and anger first,” says Porter. “Once I understand where I'm at in my struggle,then I can pass that knowledge on to my three sons.”
Porter says he must make his sons aware that they have it harder than most people when it comes to assumptions many people have about black males. ”They need to realize that they are not just walking as young men,they're walking as young,black men.” Porter wants to instill in his sons life lessons such as how to deal with the police and handle being a constant suspect in the eyes of society.
In general,the more positive the parent's self-esteem,the more positive the child’s will be. Be a good role model. Start by building your own self-esteem.
The experts also say that Learning about black history and the contributions of black Americans in our society today is an excellent tool for building the self-esteem of black children.
In his book,“Ten Principles of Black Self-Esteem,” Oglesby's fourth principle is “Remember always that black history did not begin with slavery,but with ancient Egyptian kings,queens,scientists,sages,and artisans of Africa.”
Oglesby also stresses the importance of the black church. A sense of wellness and self-worth grows out of a nurturing family,whether it is a blood family or church family.
Children need a sense of belonging and this is something that a strong family structure and the black church family can provide. Black children need to be loved and affirmed as being the beautiful people that they are,says Oglesby.
Mayden believes that black parents should definitely teach their children to celebrate their diversity. She suggests taking children to museums,exposing them to books about their heritage,and telling them about their family history. “Encourage your kids to learn new tasks,acquire new skills,and set goals,they will turn around and teach someone else,” says Mayden.
Porter makes sure that his children get a healthy dose of their heritage by ensuring his house shows images of African American history that his kids will not obtain in school. ”They see positive representations of them at home,so no matter what happens externally that will not be their only reflection of who they are.”
Showing black children love and acceptance and exposing them to their African-American heritage are great ways to build their self-esteem. And when self-esteem is positive at a young age they are more likely it to achieve personal growth and success in the future.