Height Matters

Written by Leigh Attaway Wilcox
[ North Texas Teens, May 2006, page 7, Edited by Tanya Crosby]

Height impacts sports involvement, making friends and feeling self-confident in social situations—at least that is what 1500 American Adults revealed in a recent Gallup/Pfizer survey.

Unfortunately, there may be some truth to the survey's perception as multiple studies have found that an extra inch of height may be worth as much as $1,000 a year in wages later in life. Additionally, taller men and women seem to ‘climb the ladder of success' easier and more often assume leadership roles. Out of 43 American presidents, just five were below the average height for their times.

But, heads up, mom and dad, what you think might actually make the biggest impact. Penn economists recently conducted a study and one by one eliminated all factors from the equation except self-esteem—specifically, self-esteem during adolescence.

Why adolescence? “Partly, perhaps, because self-esteem, once learned, lasts a lifetime,” surmises Dr. Steven E. Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist and Fair Play in his monthly column, Everyday Economics. “But…also because a kid with self-esteem is more likely to join the teams, clubs, and social groups where he learns to interact with people. And that participation is clearly valuable.”

“This is a tricky time psychologically for teens,” agrees Dr. Jerry M. Lewis III, a Dallas psychiatrist. He adds, “Research shows that early maturing females and late maturing males are at greatest risk for negative peer evaluations.” A girl who has just gone through a growth spurt and towers over her peers may be just a likely to be teased by classmates as a boy who waits impatiently to sprout a few inches. “But the most important message for parents to deliver is that the teen is loved—and loved for the unique person that inhabits that body—not for what the ‘package' looks like,” stresses Lewis.

“From a person's first days, everyone gets their impression of who they are from those they admire and value—usually parents,” adds Jack Howley, a Dalls-based phychotherapist and counselor.

Julia Dodson, a licensed clinical social worker in Dallas , now six feet tall, was lofty in comparison to her schoolmates and nick-named “The Jolly Green Giant.” Since she was “normal” compared with others in her family, and her parents were supportive, accepting and kind, she says, “I never really felt awkward, because everything is relative. Recognize the child's worth and don't make a big deal about height.” Showing kindness and caring for others for reasons beyond physical appearance is just as important for parents as it is for children.

“Awareness, acceptance and action are the three steps to getting through any problem,” says Dr. Victoria Harvey, licensed marriage and family therapist in Dallas . Be aware of what is going on in kids' lives. Accept them and teach them to accept others. Arm them to take action when they do encounter problems, especially those dealing with faltering self-esteem.

Genetics generally dictate full-grown height; therefore parents have a pretty good idea of how tall Junior will be. “Talk to him about what is going to happen,” encourages Dr. Harvey.

Help kids explore strengths and interests. Encourage opportunities to develop and interact socially. Maybe basketball isn't a logical option; consider talking up soccer. If playing center on the school's football team isn't ideal—check out the student council.