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Shopping for an Identity

"Who am I?"

"How will I get people to like me?"

"How can I fit in?" 

Everyone wants to know the answers to these questions. Teenagers are especially curious. But more and more, they are being persuaded by the media that the answers lie in a shopping mall, on TV or in magazines. Many teenagers depend on popular culture for clues about life.

What they hear shouts out the same message: Beauty can be bought! If you buy a certain product, your life will be wonderful. Teenagers are told that appearances count for more than the kind of person you are. 

Unfortunately, teenagers have been overwhelmed by the "good looks" propaganda that appears in magazines, on TV, on the Internet and in the movies. In advertisements, commercials and celebrity endorsements, we see standards for popularity and attractiveness that few teens will ever achieve.

It's up to you to help your child to see that when teens - and adults - buy into the media hype, they end up being disappointed because they don't look like the people in the ads. In the process, they worry and agonize over how they really look and never feel good about themselves.

Advertisers make a lot of money by convincing teens that this or that product will make them popular, beautiful, sought after, happy. Having an attractive celebrity make a claim doesn't make it the truth. Help your teen separate fact from advertising: Beauty products and clothes might enhance his or her looks, but they do not create beauty.

The real beauty of a person is the core of goodness that makes that person tick. All people have goodness inside; some just have a difficult time showing it because they're too caught up in how they think they're supposed to look or act.

Here are some ways you can help your teen to develop the beauty inside and, as a result, take away some of the media's power in playing on teens' insecurities:

  • Reach out to others. Is there someone at school or in the neighborhood that needs a friend? If you and your teen talk this question through together, you will almost certainly come up with someone who needs positive attention.
  • Develop a talent. You already know some of your teen's best qualities. Encourage him or her to express and strengthen them. Are there others you don't know about? Music? Sports? Crafts? Writing? Languages? There are books, classes and websites for nearly every hobby imaginable.
  • Do volunteer work. Any community center or organization can advise your teen on how and where to begin.

Helping your teen develop as a self-confident person through good deeds and positive behaviors rather than through consumerism will pay off in the long run. He or she will be happier and more productive. That is true beauty. Sooner or later, others will notice as well.


This information is from Who's in the Mirror? Finding the Real Me by Ron Herron. It is available from the Boys Town Press.