Saturday, October 14, 2017

Parenting Pointers: From a “Z Student” to an A Student (What a difference self-esteem can make!)

By Steve Simpson
My first several school years I was a “Z Student”. That would be the opposite of an A Student. With the uncertainty of stocks or the chances of someone winning lotto, your safest bet was that I would fail whatever test I was given and undoubtedly get the lowest grade in the class, which I used to pride myself upon holding the title of. My total lowest grade on a test was a negative 20. How you might ask? During the test I did what I always did, and that was to taunt the “smart kids” who I was jealous of. The teacher said, “Get back in your seat and whatever you get I’m taking off 20 points.” So I didn’t even try. She gave me a negative 20. At that point I needed all hundreds for the rest of the year just to average a passing grade!
I was always making jokes, and usually was the class clown, intentionally getting thrown out of the class, got into a lot of fights and was at times the class tough guy. So basically if you didn’t laugh at my jokes I beat you up. Everybody loved to sit next to me, especially at lunch to see what the next thing I would do. So by appearance I was very popular. Of course you didn’t need to be a genius to figure out that those who hung around me were my friends because of what I did and not for who I was.  
And why the low school grades? I didn’t even try and never studied. I did however spend a lot of time figuring out ways to cheat on a test. I would spend hours sometimes. My friends would come by the house and ask me to go hang out and I would say, “I’m still trying to figure out how to cheat on this next test. I still have to pass it.” They would reply, “Why don’t you just study? It would take half the time.” My answer to them would be “What’s the use?” You see I had the infamous low self-esteem, or perhaps in my case no self-esteem. I honestly believed that even if I studied I would fail.
My father was a violent abusive alcoholic who for as far back as I can remember would tell me how stupid and useless I was. And although he was physically abusive the things he said to me (verbal abuse) were far more damaging than anything else he did to me. By the time I started the first grade I already believed I was a failure. I also formed a negative opinion of adults, because of my father. As a result, I would be aggressive with teachers, as more of a defense for fear of what they would say or do to me. Even though part of me felt my father’s abusiveness was wrong, part of me also felt I deserved it for being a “bad child”. I thought the problems in the house were all my fault, and I felt guilty about fathers drinking, like many victims of child abuse feel. Like most children in these situations I also moved a lot and had to start different schools, which added to my loneliness.
Eventually I ended up in foster care. I was very lucky to have had good experiences and good people in the foster home. Once again I was forced to start a brand new school in a brand new town where nobody knew me. I know the school administration had been complaining about not getting my school records from previous schools (the old schools probably burned them for fear I would come back!) The first day I was at my new school, there was a creative writing assignment. The one thing I ever gave myself credit for was being able to write stories and poems. In fact, there were times I used to cut school and hang out in the public library reading and writing my own stories. So picture this, I’m being this rebellious child who thinks he’s a failure and cuts school at a very early age, but spends his time reading and writing. Talk about the epitome of a self-esteem problem. So, of course I did really well on the assignment, and the teacher proclaimed “You’re so talented. You must have been a top student at your previous school.” I just smiled and knew that once she has thrown me out of class 50 times in the first month she’ll eat those words.
At that time I had joined a self-help support group for teenagers with my background. The question was put to me “Do I really enjoy and want to be a problem child in school and have bad grades?” The answer of course was “no”. Another question was asked of me “Why do I think I am so stupid or a failure?” especially when I had such a strong talent with writing. I replied “Because my father has always told me that since I was born.” As the words left my mouth I pretty much guessed the answer to it and came to the conclusion that I was basing my opinion of myself on the words of someone who is drunk most of the time and whose life was totally unmanageable. I didn’t even know how to study (after all, I never did), so I had asked those that did do well in school to teach me how. At the same time the suggestion was made to me by the older member of the group to join sports, just to keep my mind off of all my problems. So I joined wrestling and then eventually track at first just to appease a friend.
After a time of trial and error and not giving up I began to pass everything. Then I did better than passing. Then I put all of my energy that I had been using for negativity and put it into my school grades and sports. Eventually, I ended up in the National Junior Honor Society and for different semesters pulled off 100 averages in two different subjects. I had won some medals in wrestling (I was able to legally beat someone up) and became the MVP for the track team. They even made me Student of the Month, and hung my picture up in the halls as a model student. I would literally laugh every time I walked by the picture, knowing that only a couple of years prior it would have been a dart board in the teachers faculty room!
Was it magic? Not at all. I could have done this at any time I just believed I couldn’t. I had discovered what I have said to many young people, the only difference between a “smart” student and a “dumb” student is the smart student knows that they’re smart and the dumb student unfortunately thinks they are dumb. I know this for a fact because after all, I have been both.
Now as an adult I am a successful businessman excelling in my field. For many years I have run a support group called “Together We Can Make It” and dedicate a great deal of my life to the group and its members, making them my number one priority over everything else including my business. I know from my own experience how important such a group is, and how important it is to have at least one person in your life that is consistently there for you, on your side and accepts you for who you are. I have gladly dedicated my time through the media to promote messages of hope and giving constructive suggestions to both children and their parents on how to overcome these problems. I have always kept up with my writing. I have now written four books and many articles that have been published. As a child writing was an escape from my problems. I can now proudly say that I have been given awards for my writing being a tool to help others deal with their problems.
There is nothing special about me over any other person who grew up as I did. The only difference is I had the opportunity to be shown a different view of myself and gain self-esteem and self-worth. Of all the things that can be given to a person in life, the greatest gift and cure for so many problems especially to a young person, is a good self-esteem.
Steve Simpson is a child advocate, child abuse survivor and media commentator who just released The Teenage and Young Adult Survival Handbook -- a small guide that is modestly tucked inside in all four of his YA adventure novels which covers most of the topics plaguing young people today—suicide, bullying, sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, self-worth, being the child of an addict, living in a dysfunctional home, surviving school and more. Simpson was even recognized by President Barack Obama, former New York governor David Paterson and the County Executive of Nassau County for his efforts on behalf of abused children.

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