The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "Deciding My Own Worth"
Deciding My Own Worth
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Lesson for "Deciding My Own Worth"

By the time he starts living in his fourth foster home Juelz has spent a lifetime hearing how worthless he is. Not surprisingly, he believes it. He struggles in school and doesn’t think he can accomplish the simplest tasks. But his new foster family embraces him completely and when his father praises his lawn mowing job Juelz begins to see that what people said about him in the past is not true.

Freewrite writing activity: Have students take out pen and paper. Tell them you’re going to read a prompt and they have 90 second to write in response to the prompt. They must keep their pen moving at all times. Tell students you won’t collect these, and they won’t be required to share them (though they will be welcome to read their answers, or part of their answer) to the class if they choose. Note: Students respond better to free writing if you write along with them.

Prompt 1: Think of a time when you felt bad about yourself, something you did, etc. What event triggered the feelings? What emotion did you feel (shame, regret, incompetence, etc.)? How did you rebound from feeling bad about yourself?

Prompt 2 (give students another 90 seconds): Think of a time when you were feeling low and you started to feel better because someone helped you. What were you feeling bad about? Who helped you feel better? What did they do?

Ask students if they would like to read what they’ve written or share any thoughts or feelings that came up as a result of doing this exercise. Ask students directly who it was who helped them and what they did that helped. (Students can respond to this question without revealing private information.) Ask if it was hard to accept help. If some students did not get help when they felt low, ask them what would have helped.

Self-Esteem Discussion Questions

Question: Ask your students, “Is it ever good to feel bad about yourself? Why?” If students have a hard time with this, prompt them by pointing out that feeling down about yourself from time to time is normal and even healthy if those feelings spur you to improve yourself (do better on the next test, run harder in the next race, be honest with your friends, etc.). Conversely, if you lie or betray your friends, etc., and don’t feel bad about yourself, there’s something wrong.

Question: Ask students: “What’s the difference between healthy self-criticism and destructive self-criticism? (A few hints: Healthy self-criticism focuses on the act and not on your core personality. For example, most people who fail a test are not total failures at school. It’s the difference between telling yourself, “I really should have studied harder,” versus, “I’m a moron. I’ll never do well in school.” Also, self-criticism becomes harmful when it becomes like a tape playing in your brain that you cannot stop (“I’m stupid,” “I’m incompetent,” etc.) That tape was running in Juelz’ brain about his general competence and in Carmen’s about her ability to do well in school. They both started to believe something about themselves that was not true.

Question: “What helped Carmen and Juelz feel better about themselves?” [Adults who cared about them told them a “new story” about themselves. Carmen’s counselor told her she could achieve. Juelz’s foster parents treated him as if he was a worthwhile person, and then rewarded him for a job well done.]

Question: “What are some differences between Carmen’s situation and Juelz’s?” [Carmen’s complete rejection of her high achieving past seems a mystery or at least something she doesn’t explain outright. As she puts it, “I don’t know how Chloe and I sank so low in our first few months of 9th grade.” Ask your student why they think Carmen “sank so low.” Juelz’s case is more clear-cut: years of being belittled and branded as useless took their toll.]

Question: “Carmen and Juelz both feel much better about themselves by the end of the story. How could these stories have gone another way? Could they have ended for the worse instead of the better? Why?” [Help guide students to see that both Carmen and Juelz were open to accepting help from adults who cared about them. Why do they think that is? Why didn’t Carmen blow off the counselor? Why didn’t Juelz act out with his new foster parents? Do your students detect some inner resolves of strength or resilience, or even humility that enabled them to respond to the help that was offered?]
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(NYC-2006-05-16)

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