The High Human Cost of Low Self-Esteem

“Young people today need to hear more positive messages reinforcing their worth. We must support, guide, and inspire them to develop their full potential. Give them the courage, and the hope to reach for their highest dreams and goals.”

- Wally Amos, Founder of Famous Amos Cookies
National Spokesman, Literacy Volunteers of America

Most parents would never consider allowing their children to grow up without teaching them or having them taught to walk, talk, read, eat, or dress themselves. These are some of the most basic survival skills. American children are fighting for their very lives. Across the nation, every six seconds, a violent crime occurs on or near a school campus. Every six seconds! Many of our children are approached with alcohol, drugs, and/or gangs by the age of eight or nine.

We love our children, cherish them, work hard to provide for them, and would die for them without a second thought. We can dedicate at least twenty years of our lives to each one of them. However, our world today is filled with drugs, gangs, peer pressure, and the confusing values in music, movies, and television. It is an epidemic tragedy that could destroy our nation’s children, and our nation’s future.

Unless we teach our children self-esteem skills, and the ability to say “NO,” we are sending them out into the world unprepared for survival–basically alone and defenseless. High self-esteem is one of the best defense tools children have against the life-damaging behaviors of alcohol, drug abuse, crime, and violence. With high self-esteem, children feel confident and sure of themselves. They are not easily bullied by peer pressure. It is essential to prepare children as young as possible with constructive social skills.

“Enjoy the roses, but be alert to the thorns.” We must emphasize the positive. It is important not to look for or expect the worst; however, it is essential to be alert, aware, and prepared.

“Many other countries and cultures are not as accepting of drugs as the United States has become. Drug abuse, gang activity and gang awareness becomes part of our national vocabulary, then it becomes routinized. It becomes absorbed into the array of events we accept as part of our culture or our life. The horror of it diminishes as it occurs more frequently.”

- Joseph Drew, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science
Chair for Evaluation, Mayor's Advisory Committee on Drug Abuse, Washington D.C.

Alcohol is the drug most widely-used by teenagers, and is called the “gateway” to drug use.

“Research shows that the earlier youngsters begin to use alcohol and other drugs, the more likely they are to have real trouble.”

- U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

“Almost one out of three boys and one out of five girls classify themselves as drinkers by age 13.”

- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Tools and Skills

To be truly effective with bully, drug, and alcohol education and prevention, the entire community must be involved, including law enforcement, religious organizations, schools, teachers, parents, and most of all, the students themselves.

Positive educational music that includes refusal skills is an excellent tool for prevention. They learn the songs. They feel the power of saying “NO!” They recognize their own ability to make choices.

  • An interactive program is the most effective.
  • Children will learn spontaneously with music, absorbing the knowledge of self-esteem and drug prevention.
  • With music, children practice down-to-earth social skills for use in day-to-day situations.
  • Knowledge, practice, and social skills will serve as their strength for the challenges that await them.


Dr. Thomas Gordon, author of Parent Effectiveness Training, emphasizes the importance of self-discipline as it relates to parent-discipline. (Recommended reading)

Children reach the age where they will not be parent-disciplined, but they will be self-disciplined.

  • Parent-discipline is what children do in the presence of their parents.
  • Self-discipline is the protection children will have when we are at work or at home, and they are at school or at play. Self-discipline is the inner strength, character, and values we have given them.

When children are with their peers, all they have to protect and guide them are the values and skills we have given them–their self-discipline, their social skills, and most of all, their self-esteem.

Many parents bury their heads and think,

  • “Oh, that has nothing to do with me or my children.”
  • “I’ve taught them right from wrong, we’re safe.” Or “I’ve got good kids.”
  • “Those things happen to other people.” (There sure are a lot of “other people” out there.)

The Boy Scouts of America, Drug Abuse Task Force S202, reports that regardless of size and location, in any town or city in the United States, drug usage is the same.

The Cost of Alcohol and Drug Related Domestic Violence and Homelessness

86% of all murders in the U.S. are alcohol related. 65% of all child abuse is alcohol related. Spousal abuse is the most common crime in America, and the most unreported crime in America. The majority of injuries requiring medical help, are not reported to the police departments. Victims are afraid to report, thus pass it off as a fall, etc. 95% of spousal abuse victims are women, resulting in 4,000 deaths each year. This is more than the yearly U.S. fatalities of the Iraq and Middle Eastern war. The injuries and side effects, both physically and mentally, are at the least, equally as high as Iraq and the Middle Eastern war. At least three million American Children, each year, are traumatized by witnessing the battering and/or murder of one of their parents. The children don’t forget and rarely recover. Frustration and anger are normal. Violence is not normal, verbally nor physically. Hitting with threats, words and fear hurts.

Women in the U.S. are NINE TIMES more likely to require medical attention having been physically damaged by their partner at home…than through automobile accidents, muggings, assaults, and rapes combined. Our home should be a safe haven and support system for all who live there. Some women in the United States are in the most danger in their own home. The drug and alcohol use, and/or habitual rage and lack of self-control of the partner create the majority of this danger. The “DRY- DRUNK” does not drink, yet usually grew up in a violent home and repeats the violent raging behavior of an alcoholic.

50% of Americas’ HOMELESS WOMEN and CHILDREN are escaping and/or hiding from the domestic violence at home. They prefer poverty, hunger, illness, and shame, to the cruelty in their home. How much is alcohol and drug use costing our society financially and emotionally?


As the welfare system investigates why many women and single mothers on welfare have a difficult time functioning with jobs, consistency, or pressure…a sobering fact emerges. The majority of these welfare recipients have been violently abused and/or sexually molested as children. Most of them grew up in alcoholic and/or drug abuse, or “dry-drunk” raging violent environments where they were physically and/or verbally abused. A high majority of women in the prison system were sexually abused as children,

To complicate this horrific emotional foundation, most of these women choose or are chosen by alcoholic and/or drug using, or “dry-drunk” volatile abusive partners. This is familiar to them. It is all they know. These women have no idea how to function in a normal, loving, sane, consistent, kind relationship or environment. To be kept down and controllable, they are told that they are ugly, stupid, worthless etc. They are told that they are lucky to have their situation, because no one else would want them. These women enable, baby, and rescue their partners. These women do not realize that they deserve to be loved and treated with respect.

Women and children with a history of being abused have low self-esteem, and on-going health issues. The immune system is damaged by the adrenalin of non-stop “fight or flight response.” Victims of repeated long term domestic violence have the same “post-traumatic stress” and “panic attacks” as battlefield soldiers. They never feel safe or let their guard down. They don’t know when or where or how…but they know an attack could come any moment. Many of these people are homeless and/or added to the welfare system. Who pays for domestic violence? Our entire nation pays. These victims have little self-confidence to follow through or to finish anything. Their lifestyle passes violence to their children and this destructive cycle continues on to a new generation. (95% of adult victims are women.)

(For your reference: Project Charlie A Program of Youth Action, Intimate Violence, Simon & Schuster 1998, Battering and Family Therapy, Sage Publication, 1993, Women Battering: A Major Part of Homelessness Joan Zorza, U.S. Department of Education, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Department of Health and Human services.)

Children, five to ten, seem to suffer the most (from seeing domestic violence). They know what’s going on but they’re too little and weak to do anything about it. They feel responsible and guilty for not stopping it. It is one of the reasons for early and risky sexual activity, pregnancy and marriage, and early substance abuse. for the effects of domestic violence on children.

The High Financial Cost of Low Self Esteem = (substance abuse and violence)

“Forty percent of high school seniors drink alcohol every day.”

- Growing Up Drug-Free
U.S. Department of Education, Washington D.C.

Several government and private agencies report that drinking and driving is the #1 killer of teenagers, and drivers under 21 have the highest rates of alcohol-involved fatal crashes.

“About fifty percent of all youthful deaths in drowning, fires, suicide, and homicide are alcohol related.

- Growing Up Drug-Free
U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

“In the past decade there have been 1.3 million deaths from violence in the U.S. This exceeds all deaths in foreign wars in this century. Our children are fifteen times more likely to be killed by violence than a child in Ireland, Israel, and many of the countries who are obviously politically and actively engaged in hostilities.”

  • Gun violence is the third leading cause of death of elementary and secondary school children in the United States.
  • Gun violence claims the life of a child every two hours. This is the equivalent of an entire classroom full of children being killed every two days.
  • Three million children witness parental violence each year.
  • Thirteen million children are sexually and/or violently abused each year.

- Marian Wright Edelman
President, Children's Defense Fund

Project Charlie, a program of Storefront Youth Action, reports that:

  • 65% of child abuse is alcohol related.
  • 86% of all murders are alcohol related.
  • 72% of robbers are drinking just prior to or during the offense.
  • 40% of all fatal industrial accidents are alcohol related.
  • 50% of all fatal car accidents are alcohol/drug related.

Substance abuse costs our national economy $224 billion annually in remedial instructional programs, lost taxes, job incompetence, welfare payments, vandalism, and social services. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The medical costs of newborn addiction are adding a tremendous burden to all of us. We are all paying for it with our taxes, our quality of life, and the safety and future of our children.

  • Crime in America is costing taxpayers $500 billion each year and is rising.
  • Crime costs $10 billion yearly in medical expenses.
  • Crime costs $85 billion yearly in criminal justice courts.
  • Crime costs $100 billion yearly in urban decay, due to drugs and gangs.

The high cost of low self-esteem and peer pressure will affect each of our lives. One’s reasons for working with children or administering programs may range from compassion and dedication, to the practicalities of crime reduction, reducing social service costs, and the safety and future of our nation. The Scott Newman Center’s P.S.A. Project reports that the most widely available and problem producing drug in the U.S. is alcohol and that beer, wine and liquor companies spend $3.1 billion each year promoting these products. They will spend over $300,000 in advertising during the next hour and a half. How can we possibly allow alcohol advertising on TV? Who is accountable for the laws on alcohol?

The Boy Scouts of America, The Drug Task Force S202 is actively involved in drug and alcohol prevention. They report that someone is killed in an alcohol-related accident every twenty-two minutes in the U.S. They also report that teenage cocaine use in the fastest growing segment of drug use in the country and that 10 percent of Americans report they have used cocaine at least once.

Every child, regardless of economic background or geographic location, will have to make choices at some point regarding drugs, friendships, and goals. When children are prepared with practical social skills, communication, peer resistance, and goal setting, the entire nation as a family will benefit. It is time to investigate and be open minded to all possibilities of stress reduction, and consequently, drug prevention. The higher the stress-level of the individual, the community or the nation, the higher will be the incident of alcohol use, drug use, violence and crime.

Drug Use Begins with the Desire to Change a Feeling and with Peer Pressure

  • The youth want to feel different, to feel happier, and to feel loved.
  • They want to feel older, to feel admired, and to feel included.
  • They are afraid of being teased, left out, or feeling rejected.
  • They don’t trust their own opinion, nor do they feel safe to express their opinion.
  • They are afraid to stand on their own sense of right or wrong.
  • The payback for being “true to themselves” has not been reinforced. It has not been their experience to have their feelings and needs accepted.

Drop-Out Rate

Nationally, the United States has a school dropout rate of 25 percent, with the rate going as high as 54 percent in some areas. So many kids just give up and don’t try to achieve their full potential. They become isolated on the sidelines, which leaves them very vulnerable. As a result of dropping out, and not going for a college degree or higher skill training, many Americans are not prepared to enter the work force, creating a financial burden on the entire society. (Refer to self-esteem chart Lesson 1)

“I have ever deemed it more honorable and more profitable too, to set a good example than to follow a bad one.”

- Thomas Jefferson

When I first started teaching this program with a group of 10 and 11 year-olds, I explained that friends don’t give you drugs. I noticed some rolling eyes and looks that said “sure!” One girl stood up with a hurt, sad face, and tired body language and said “Yes…they do.” Other youth in the group related the same experience. We stopped to discuss the definition and behavior of “friends.” Later, in meetings with several groups of children discussing the issue of “friends” and drugs, I felt their confusion and pain. As a result of the feedback and open honesty of these children, this lesson has a strong emphasis on friendship.

By the 4th grade, 40 percent of students feel pushed by friends to smoke cigarettes, 34 percent feel pressured to drink wine coolers, and 24 percent say their friends encourage them to try cocaine or crack.

- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

“Life is a choice, choose your friends, be wise.
Drug pushers are pretenders, enemies in disguise!”

- "I Say No" (song #1, Dianna)

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.”

- George Washington

The Mask of Friendship

How do you walk away from a friend?Although, sometimes drugs are introduced through a fast-talking stranger, usually this isn’t so. Most initial drug experimentation is introduced by someone children have known for some time as a “friend,” or by someone with “friendly”behavior pretending to be their friend only for the purpose of drug promotion.

There is one predicable situation – a pattern of behavior that is continually repeated. The older teen befriends the younger teen for drug marketing purposes. Perhaps it is the friend of an older sibling, or a neighbor, or one who is familiar in the environment. Some older teens “hang out” in locations where they know the younger teens and children will be. The older teen begins to create the “mask of friendship.” He compliments the child or younger teens on their clothes or their athletic abilities or artistic talents, etc. The “mask of friendship” then begins to buy treats for the young admirers, i.e. sodas, candy, food. He next offers his help to teach a skill: bowling, basketball, fishing, etc. He also offers them rides to places they might be interested in going. The “new kid in town” is especially vulnerable to accepting friendship from the first one who offers it. When trust and caring become obvious in the younger youth, then drugs are offered as a gift of the “mask of friendship.” He teaches them how to inject or inhale or whatever. This gift is repeated until the youth is hooked either physically or emotionally, both to the drug or the “mask of friendship.” The older teen has set up a base of customers and now begins to sell to the kids… as a favor to them of course.

Billy the Kid . . . Age Appropriate Friends

Henry McCarty, “Billy the Kid,” was described by some in his mining camp, and by his school teacher as a peaceful, polite, kid who loved reading and art. His nature was artistic and gentle. He was known for eagerly and cheerfully helping others. He enjoyed doing chores around the schoolhouse. Growing up in a mining camp was not easy. Members of the community where Henry grew up said, he was quiet, and never swore or tried to be a bully, like some of the other kids. He was fascinated by music and he loved to sing and dance and read. He was always hanging out somewhere reading a book. The community saw Billy as a good kid, and valued his company.

What happened that turned Henry into “Billy the Kid?” Henry started hanging out with a new friend… with “Sombrero Jack.” He was older than Henry, and an all-around no-good. Like our kids today, Henry wanted to fit in, to be included, and was easily influenced by an older companion. Henry the thin, shy, artist who loved reading and music, became “Billy the Kid.” Most who knew him, said it was because of his companionship with Sombrero Jack. Billy followed him into violence and crime. Billy died a violent death at the age of twenty-one. (Billy the Kid, Robert M. Utley)

As children move through adolescence, it becomes more important that they spend time with youth their own age and definitely not try to keep up with a friend 2-3 years older. They grow up too fast. They hear and see things that they are not prepared to understand and keep in perspective. They have not had the years and experience necessary to develop the judgment and the resistance skills for the choices they will be faced with while in the company of older friends. There is a huge difference in the physical and emotional maturity of a 10-11 year-old, and a 13-14 year-old.

What is a Friend?

Children need to understand the words “real friends,” “enemy,” and “pretend.”

1. There is a hidden agenda in a drug dealer pretending to be a friend.

2. Discuss the changes an old friend may have made in their choices and in their lifestyle.

  • The use of drugs changes a person and they can no longer truly be a real friend.
  • Physically, mentally, and emotionally they are not the same people they were, and they are not capable of good judgment and consistent caring.

One of the most painful experiences for youth is recognizing and accepting the changes in a valued friend. If a deep bond and a deep caring have been there between friends for quite some time, it’s tough! They’ve depended on each other for support and companionship. It’s very painful when the friend emotionally separates himself. It hurts when we have to let go of a friend who is going down with drugs or gangs in order to save ourselves.

“Stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right and part with him when he is wrong.”

- Abraham Lincoln

“Sometimes the friend who may be changing and going in the wrong direction, wants to hold on because it gives him or her a feeling of security and familiarity. It gives them some safety and comfort. They sometimes play on the guilt and the sense of loyalty of an old friend. They will use an old friend to keep that feeling of comfort and they won’t allow their friend to easily let go.”

- Becky Cameron, 4th grade teacher
Gang Awareness Education Prevention

“One out of every three sixth graders say they feel pressured by their peers to use
marijuana. Over half of the sixth graders report pressure to drink beer, wine, or liquor.”

- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

“4.6 million teenagers have a drinking problem.”

- Growing Up Drug-Free
U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

“Teen-age drug use has increased 105 percent since 1992. Eleven percent of the 22 million U.S. teen-agers are using drugs, mostly marijuana, but also LSD and cocaine. A person smoking pot at 13 is 79 times more likely to become an addict as an adult.”

- Federal Drug Survey, USA Today

Our sixteen-year-old neighbor, Robert, talked with me about his painful choice. His lifetime best friend had developed a drug problem. Robert loved his friend like a brother. They were constant companions, going everywhere together, sharing their lives. Robert’s friend’s life dramatically changed and spiraled downhill. Robert tried to get his friend off drugs, trying to turn him around. As a result, Robert’s grade average dropped. He found himself in uncomfortable circumstances with people he didn’t enjoy. He realized he had to make a choice…to join in or to break free. He was moving through the grief of the change and the loss of his friend. As a shy boy, when he made the decision to break with his childhood friend, he knew he faced isolation until he found new friends. It took courage. Robert’s grades went back up and he is getting on with his life. He had the high self-esteem to walk away.

Walking away from friends who are making poor choices is a lifesaving skill. It takes high self-esteem and personal strength to refuse to join in or to refuse to ride in a car when the driver has been drinking, especially when peers are being a bully about it.

  • During the 10-year Vietnam War approximately 58,000 American soldiers were killed.
  • During that same time, 250,000 Americans were killed by drinking drivers, with approximately 3.5 million people injured.

There is no Such Thing as an Accident Involving a Drunk Driver

Betty Stadler was speaking on the evening news about the unnecessary destruction of lives and families due to someone’s selfish, irresponsible choice to drink…and then drive.

“There’s no such thing as an accident involving a drunk driver. Drunk drivers kill forty-five people each day on our highways. This is the equivalent of three classrooms of children killed every two days or a plane crash, killing every passenger every three days. We are shocked and motivated to action when we hear of children dying in their classrooms and when we hear of plane crash fatalities. Although many states have made their laws tougher, we are socially and legally lenient with drunk drivers. Drunk drivers kill twenty-two thousand, five hundred people each year. ”

- Betty Stadler
MADD Founder, State of Idaho

When Betty and I met I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she is a shining light of caring, kindness, humility, and strength. Betty and her husband, Ben, had seven children. Their youngest was Carol.

“Carol and her husband Kelly had purchased an old, fallen-down, country building and had recycled the bricks, stones, and other materials to build their own home. They did the work themselves on weekends and evenings. After three years their home was finished and they and their two children moved in. It was a very exciting time for them. Carol was busily making curtains and taking care of the other fun details of a new home.

Carol and Kelly dropped their children at Mom’s and had a romantic evening to celebrate their lives together and their loving relationship. Returning home from dinner they were laughing and reminiscing on their love for each other and their ten years of marriage. They were expressing how blessed they were to have each other and how good their life was.

The drunk driver, who ran a country stop sign with his large truck, hit them broadside on Carol’s passenger side. He was driving without a license due to prior repeated D.U.I s. He was a repeat offender with drunk driving. He killed Carol, leaving her husband Kelly with a broken neck and serious multiple injuries. When Kelly was finally released from the hospital, he spent five months living in a rehab center.

This was not an accident!!! It was a drunk driver!!!

This person had made a conscious decision to drink and then drive. The drunk driver was not injured. He never apologized to any of the family. He expressed no remorse.

Many lives were shattered and have never been the same.

Each time we see a white cross beside the road on our highways, we know that an entire family and a community have been affected by the loss. 50% of vehicle accidents are drunk drivers. We don’t know all the millions of people, the survivors, who still miss them every day. How many lives have been left with a void that can never be filled?

We hear about the people who are killed by drunk drivers. We don’t hear much about the survivors. They are not included in the statistics. This drunk driver destroyed a family.

  • Kelly, husband and father, has had years of unending physical pain from his neck and back injuries.
  • Kelly’s body was never fully capable of total repair or healing.
  • Kelly lost a wife he loved and who loved him.
  • Two children lost a devoted mother.
  • A mother and father lost a cherished daughter.
  • Six siblings lost a sister…and the list goes on.

As Betty and I sat in her home looking over the valley, she looked quietly at the floor and then gazed out the window, lost in her memories. She and her husband Ben had built the home they shared. They had been married forty-five years. As she turned back towards me, she continued:

“Ben and I were in shock with the pain and disbelief. Something terrible happened to Ben when Carol died. A part of him died too. He never got over the shock and the devastating pain. Sometime after Carol’s death, Ben was diagnosed with cancer. I know it was the sorrow of losing Carol that killed him. He couldn’t get over the grief and the loss. I lost a daughter and a wonderful husband that I loved. He was my best friend.

Carol was such a bright light. To have that light completely extinguished filled me with such grief and such anger. Six months after Carol’s death a friend sent me a memorial from MADD. I called the national MADD organization to find that there was no MADD organization in Idaho.

There were no victim’s rights in Idaho. The drunken driver, the offender, had all the rights in order to avoid court appeals. When we went to court my daughter Carol’s husband, Kelly, was barred from the court room because…the offender told the judge that he, the drunk driver who killed my daughter…minded Carol’s husband being in the court room. It made him uncomfortable. That one drunk driver has cost the state of Idaho hundreds of thousands of dollars in appeals. An alcoholic’s only focus is on themselves and what they want.

I used to talk to my daughter Carol and I told her we would found a chapter of MADD in the state of Idaho in her name. I put an ad in the paper and arranged for a room. Forty people showed up and six to ten became active. We had ninety days to get everything done to start a chapter. After we were chartered we had no paid staff for six years. We were all volunteers. It was my whole life for years. We started victim panels, talked to driver’s ed, health classes, and worked with lawmakers to create victim’s rights.

I remember walking, grieving, and being angry with God for letting this happen. God gave us free will. I had to sort this all out, I had to work through this. If there is any solace…Carol did not suffer. She went from the arms of the man she loved, Kelly, to the arms of the Lord she loved.”

- Betty Stadler
MADD Founder, State of Idaho

The national MADD organization marked its twenty-year anniversary in the year 2000. MADD has seven-hundred volunteers across the country. Betty Stadler was honored in Washington D.C. and in Arlington, Virginia, as one of our nation’s twenty volunteers to receive the MADD 2000 Top-Twenty Difference-Maker Award.

Excerpt from Bully Prevention Character Development Program © – Dianna L. Pappas-Marchese