Dear Rabbi Fried,
Why are there so many teenagers with low self-esteem today and why do they look for “quick fixes” in other means like drugs, alcohol, etc.? Also, what can we do as parents to ensure our teenagers grow up with high self-esteem and with high emotional health?
There is no one answer that covers it all, of course. It is clear, however, from your question that you are on to the relationship between the “quick fixes” you mentioned, and the lack of emotional health and self-esteem, which often go hand in hand.
The truth is that it’s not only the teens of our generation who lack self-esteem, but it goes across the board. It is difficult for adults who lack self-esteem themselves to be an inspiration for the teens of our generation to have a deep sense of pride and self-worth which would cancel the perceived need to attain empty happiness through drugs and drinking.
My late mentor in Jerusalem, the esteemed Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt”l, once explained to us the backdrop upon which the lack of self-esteem in our generation is based. Darwin turned us into an accident of creation, which happens to be the fittest of all the many accidents that grew out of some chemical soup. Freud taught us that we don’t do much of anything out of our own choices, due to the effect of hidden desires that are out of our control.
The industrial revolution shrank further the strength of man, having most tasks performed by machines. It went even further with the computer revolution, which taught us to largely stop thinking and leave the thinking to machines far superior to ourselves. Then astronomy finished it off by showing us that after all that nothingness, we’re merely a tiny speck among billions of galaxies, rendering us and our actions inconsequential.
In previous generations the world at large, and the Jews specifically, lived by the strong belief that we are not an inconsequential chemical accident, rather a creation of the Al-mighty, endowed with a soul, which is a spark of the Divine. Being created in the “Image of G‑d” empowers us to affect the entire universe with our actions. The larger the universe, the greater the impact we have. Our actions even affect directly the extent that the Al-mighty connects Himself to this world, bringing more blessing and bounty to the world, or, the opposite.
Needless to say, this is a vast subject and there’s much more to be said about it. However, by inculcating these messages into our own awareness by the study of these concepts in our Torah literature, we will rekindle a profound sense of self-worth and self-esteem which we will then be able to pass down to our youth and teenagers. This would have an incredible impact, and the world would look like a very different place, in many diverse ways, for the better.