By Julia Khan, Girls Innovate! Teen Committee
Dr. Carol Langlois will be the guest speaker at our November Teen Brunch. As the teen coordinator for this brunch, I got a chance to interview Dr. Carol about her work and background. I also asked her advice for teen girls around self-esteem, the main focus of her upcoming book.
About Dr. Carol:
Dr. Carol Langlois is a former University Associate Provost and Dean, trained therapist, researcher, and soon to be author. She is working on her first book called “Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image,” which is a compilation of interviews with teen girls on the topic of self-esteem.
1. Can you tell us more about your work in higher education, coaching girls and young women, and other entrepreneurial projects?
I worked in higher education for 17 years. Mostly I worked in admissions, but I also spent some time in student services. I loved working with prospective students; interviewing them and touring them around campus. However, I also enjoy working with the students already on campus by helping them navigate through their college experience successfully. I served as a Director of Admissions for about 6 years, but after finishing my doctoral degree, I became a Dean of Admissions and later an Associate Provost. Although I found the work rewarding, I was further and further removed from working with the students on a day-to-day basis. So, I decided I want to get back to the research I did in my dissertation and write a book about teen girls for teen girls struggling with self-esteem challenges. My book called “Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image” will serve as a resource guide for teen girls struggling with self-esteem.
So, I left academia in 2011 and became an independent consultant where I now work directly with universities and I continue to do admission consulting for families and teens looking into the college process. Consulting allows me the flexibility for collecting data for the book and writing it. (I expect the book to be available Spring 2014.)
As you can see, education is important to me. So besides writing the book and consulting, I’m also building a charter school. The school will be an early college high school located in Oakland, California. This means the school will incorporate a four-year high school diploma with a 2 year Associates degree. We’re hoping for the school to open in 2015.
2. How did you become interested in studying about girls and self-esteem?
After finishing my Masters degree in counseling psychology, I became a trained and licensed therapist. At one of the universities where I worked, I was doing therapy with mainly 18 and 19-year-old students on campus (freshman). These students were mainly females. Consistently I encountered the same challenges that these young women were facing. I saw numerous cases of eating disorders, depression, in some cases binge drinking, poor choices in boyfriends and a lot of struggling related to their identity development. All of these issues, at the core, seemed to have a direct relationship to their self-esteem. So, I knew that for my doctoral work I wanted to focus on teen self-esteem so that by the time these young women got to college they weren’t dealing with these challenging issues and struggles. So, my doctoral work and dissertation focused on 15-year-old girls and self-esteem development.
3. What personal qualities and circumstances do you believe led you to the successes in your life?
If you look at the nature versus nurture debate I believe that both sides were equally instrumental in helping me become the person I am today. On the nurture side, my parents were always supportive of my interests and viewpoints. They helped me with my schoolwork when I was younger, taught me the importance of responsibility, saving money, independence and encouraged me academically. My dad always used to say to me: “You can be anything you want to be in this lifetime.” And I knew he meant it. I was encouraged to think about a career and a future that was meaningful for me. In my family, going to college was expected and any education after that was optional.
Looking at the nature side, I just love school. I was a good student and I loved learning. I’m an inquisitive person and always sought out new things and enjoyed meeting new people. Because I liked school, teachers responded positively to me, which opened up many doors and opportunities for me within education. I’m definitely a “glasses is half full” kind of person, which means that I always look on the bright side of things and I’m pretty optimistic in my views of most things. This trait has definitely helped me during challenging times.
4. How can a girl be a good friend to her peers who seem to have personal struggles?
Having a close friend, a “best friend” or a group of friends that you can talk to openly is incredibly important for every girl. Sometimes there are things you just want to talk to a friend about. If a peer is dealing with a struggle and she comes to you/confides in you, that’s very important. It means that she feels safe with you and trust you as a friend. First and foremost, just being there to listen is always appreciated. Don’t think that you have to have all the answers. Just talking about something that maybe you have struggled with as well helps her feel not so alone in her situation. However, if your friend is struggling with something that could be damaging to herself, you can be supportive and listen, but you may need some input or guidance from an adult. That is a lot of responsibility for you to take on and you may need to talk to someone who has more experience in that area. A few suggestions would be: You can go with her and talk to your school counselor or you could go with her and talk to a family member. Bottom line, letting her know that you’re there for her whether you have all the answers or not is probably the most important thing.
5. How does a girl’s self-esteem in high school affect what happens to her later on?
The high school years are a critical time in a teen’s life. This is the time that developmental psychologists call “identity vs. role confusion.” What this means is: you are trying to figure out what you like , independent of your friends and family, and you are trying to decide who you want to become. So much is going on with a girl at this age mentally, physically and emotionally. Being comfortable with who you are is key. Having a positive relationship with your parents and having a group of girlfriends who you can trust is also important. If issues or challenges aren’t worked out during this phase in your life, chances are a girl will continue to deal with the same issues and struggles into college. Don’t keep things inside. Tell others how you feel. The #1 mistake I see from teens is not telling their parents when they are dealing with a big issue. Trust me, if you are dealing with something that you see as a struggle, your parents want to know about it and want to help you.
5. Do you think/why do you think Twitter and blogging are important platforms to spread your ideas on?
So many people are online these days that social media is a huge opportunity to share information. I can’t meet every teen girl in the world; however, I can reach them via my blog, twitter feed, youtube channel and other social media sites. If one girl feels empowered or better about herself by reading something that I have shared, then I’ve done my job. Without online platforms, I could never reach girls outside the Bay Area, let alone California or the U.S. (Many of my followers are from other countries, not just the U.S.) It’s important for me to share tips, tools and resources with teens and parents, who have teens everywhere in the world.
6. How does the college application process affect self esteem?
I’d actually like to flip this question and say….. “How does self-esteem affect the college application process?” Many times I see teen girls underestimate their successes, grades and their abilities. This then translates into their college choices. Sometimes they don’t see themselves as “ smart enough” for a particular school or not “worthy” of going to some University that they see out of their reach. However, many times these schools are not outside their academic reach. It’s their own belief system, or negative self-talk that ends up holding them back from applying to certain schools. It’s very sad to me.
7. Are rape culture and self-esteem related?
Yes. This is a very complex topic with many facets and variables. This isn’t an easy topic to address via a few lines in this article. However, I will say that rape culture is a serious issue that affects everyone in a community—males and females alike. It speaks to tolerance, entitlement, ignorance, societal morns, peer pressure and self-esteem. Awareness and education needs to occur to shift certain belief systems around this ugly reality.
Thank you, Dr. Carol, for your insightful answers! We look forward to seeing you at our Teen Brunch on Sunday, November 17, 2013.
For teens interested in attending this brunch, it is completely free and open to the public. Join us!