Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Utilizing Storytelling to Promote Emotional Well-Being of Children with a Distinct Physical Appearance: The Case of Children Who Wear Eyeglasses

Academic journal article The European Journal of Counselling Psychology

Utilizing Storytelling to Promote Emotional Well-Being of Children with a Distinct Physical Appearance: The Case of Children Who Wear Eyeglasses

Article excerpt

Introduction

According to the theory of social constructivism, the concept of identity formation is to be found within the social realm. That is, our identities are not fixed but fluid and they arise, not from inside us, but from the interactions and discourses that we encounter on a daily basis (Burr, 1995). Inevitable, in such a context, dominant cultural discourses have the power to shape identities. Thus, people who deviate from some social norm, might get trapped into internalizing deficit-based descriptions as authoritative versions of who they are. On the other hand, from an information processing perspective, we are inclined to jump to conclusions about the underlying personality of other people based on limited or biased information about them (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Pronin, 2007). Specifically, according to Pronin (2008), we tend to judge others either based on external appearances and behavior, or according to how we think we might feel if we were in their position. Thus, both perspectives demonstrate the disadvantaged position in which children with a special trait in their appearance, might find themselves. They also highlight the need for novel and effective preventive interventions for those who are more likely to become targets of discrimination, prejudices and negative stereotypes within school settings.

Many children can be cruel toward the peer who deviates even slightly from some social norm, whether of appearance, ability or ethnicity (Macklem, 2012). For example, they are notably judgmental towards other children with unusual physical traits (such as obesity, macrotia, growth retardation, children who wear glasses, braces, etc.), as they tend to confuse those traits with personality traits (Janssen, Craig, Boyce, & Pickett, 2004). In addition, research conducted to study the phenomenon of verbal victimization shows that children who are less physically attractive, have visible abnormalities, are overweight and have some sensory disadvantages (vision, speech, etc.) are more likely to be targets of teasing, name calling and bullying than their peers. These risk factors are deemed important regardless of gender and nationality (Sweeting & West, 2001).

There is a consensus among studies regarding the negative impact that stigmatization has on the life and emotional well-being of the affected individuals (Houbre, Tarquinio, Thuillier, & Hergott, 2006; Kumpulainen et al., 1998). In many cases, children with an unusual physical appearance are likely to have low self-image and self-esteem (Rigby & Slee, 1993), since peers' critical comments about their external appearance make them think and believe that they are indeed "weird" or "different" in some way. Furthermore, there are often clear indications of psychological problems in stigmatized individuals, such as stress, depression, shyness, social anxiety and anxiety regarding physical appearance, and dissatisfaction regarding their external image (Glaser, Prior, & Lynch, 2001; Rigby & Slee, 1993).

As far as children and adolescents who wear glasses are concerned, the available evidence rather suggests that the negative stereotypes that adults attribute to those who wear eyeglasses tend to generalize to primary school children (Jellesma, 2013; Terry & Macy, 1991; Terry & Stockton, 1993). For example, primary school children were presented with pairs of slides of similar aged children, photographed with and without eyeglasses (Terry & Macy, 1991). It was found that eyeglasses increased negative judgments and decreased positive judgments, especially when they were worn by girls, regardless of whether the child making the judgment was in the 1st or 3rd grade (Terry & Macy, 1991). Jellesma (2013) conducted a literature review and arrived at the conclusion that children have positive and negative stereotypes of peers with eyeglasses; however, wearing eyeglasses can negatively affect physical self-esteem. …

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