I remember walking into my 11+ exam and hearing some parents say this to their crying daughter... 'If you don't pass these exams you won't get the horse or the computer room.' Poor girl - going into an exam with so much pressure to do well and please her parents. There was no 'I love you, just try your best.' But instead 'if you do this, you'll get this, and if you don't, you'll get nothing.'
Now I don’t know if this girl failed her exams or not but if she did, her fall would have been massive, with no crash matt of love and understanding to fall on. The way her parents spoke to her was cold and heartless. I think this exposure to such intense pressure at such a young age is very dangerous.
Now I’m not suggesting that all parents are like that, but the sad reality is that our culture holds sky high standards, many of which are unobtainable yet still we try and try and try. I've got a feeling that for young people this 'need to please' and fit in only increases as they move through their school years and are faced with these constant messages of who they should be and how they should act.
Body image is talked about a lot in the media with many calling for change in this area. Yet we are still constantly faced with glossy images telling us that to be happy and successful we need to be a certain shape with flawless bronzed skin and flowing Kate Middleton-esque locks.
I overheard a conversation in a supermarket last week where a girl said 'I've just finished the juice diet, I lost 6lb! But then in the few days after I put on 8lb... it's onto the next diet for me!' This girl was so slim and I just thought how sad is it that she feels the need to change and fit in.
Many young people are pressured into sexually pleasing their boyfriends and girlfriends in ways that they do not feel comfortable – the main reason that young people go along with this is their desire to please.
So let's take a look at this:
If parents are speaking to their children in this way and constant exams demand more and more of them, If friends are smoking and drinking and young people are desperate to fit in and if society is filling their minds with unobtainable images of what's normal, If relationships are demanding more of them to please each other (literally!) Then young people are in a constant battle to achieve, please and fit in.
I remember when I was at school I had a friend who used to secretly cut at her legs because she didn't feel 'perfect enough'. She used to say 'I have to punish myself because I get things wrong’. We have a problem here. It's more than just wanting to be liked, it's that we're so desperate to please and so worried what people think of us that we're no longer comfortable being ourselves.
What's the answer?
Well I've come to realise that it starts with conversations, exploring life together. Being honest with each other and taking a look at the things that hold us back and control us. I’ll admit, I want people to like me! I often worry that they won’t and I try my hardest to please everyone around me. There, I’ve said it, what about you?
Over the past few years I've been working on a place for young women to be encouraged. This place is called 'koko' and is a website that I'm filling with challenging videos, blogs and interviews.
The hope is that it will become a safe place to explore subjects like those mentioned above, and through the creation of films about body image, peer pressure, alcohol, self-harm etc. we can encourage other people to feel confident to be themselves.
It’s got me thinking, this constant striving to please is like a weed. I really do think we need to dig up the roots of our insecurities and begin to fill that space with confidence and authenticity. Let’s encourage each other to do that.
Come and say hello over on koko and let me know what subjects you’d like to see explored on there.
Meg loves to make films and tell stories. She works for Girls' Brigade Ministries and runs a website called koko which aims to inspire, encourage and challenge teenage girls around the world. You can find it all here - www.thekokostory.com