It requires more than the collection of data about oneself. It calls for the ability to interpret these data in terms of self and environment. The individual must come to see himself as he is in comparison with what he wants to be. He must come to grips with himself as he is, as well as with what he thinks he should be; that is, he should have a clear and realistic concept of himself, his surroundings, his obligations and opportunities.
1. Self-Understanding is not related to Age: A realistic self-concept, that is, accurate self-understanding, is not attained at any given age.
Some attain it in early youth; some later; some never. An accurate self-concept usually begins to appear in early adolescence, becoming clearer with growth and experience. It will usually be possible to share with the gifted youth all available data about his strengths and weaknesses early enough and fully enough so that he can develop or remedy them. He will certainly be able to use this information realistically in planning. 2. Making Decisions Helps Develop a Realistic Self-Concept: If the purpose of guidance is to help the individual solve his own problems and make his own choices as an adult, the responsibility for the choices he makes as a youth must also rest primarily on him. If he is to make choices that are wise, he must understand himself, his needs, and the choices available to him.
In helping the student to understand himself, one must take great care that he does not develop the habit of morbid introspection to the extent that he either becomes the center of everything—the most important person in his world—or shrinks in importance so much that he feels worthless to himself and to others. Either result will make it impossible for him to assess correctly his abilities and aptitudes and will defeat his attempts to reach emotional maturity. 3. Information is needed for the Development of a Self-Concept: It is difficult to decide how much, if at all, the individual should participate in gathering information about him. The prevailing feeling is that the school counsellor is a person with special training in the methods and techniques of guidance and that he, with the other school personnel, is responsible for securing the necessary information about pupils and recording it in the cumulative folders. After studying these records, he consults with teachers and with the pupil and, on the basis of all this information, helps the pupil to understand himself, to adjust to school, and to plan his future.
This approach is quite logical if the counsellor is considered to be the center of the guidance process. If, however, the individual student himself; he should participate in it and, through this participation, learn more about himself. We should also remember that certain important data cannot be obtained without the cooperation of the pupil himself. The pupil needs information about himself as an aid to clear self- understanding.
4. Current Experiments in the Development of Self-Understanding: Sociograms may help in self-understanding by showing the pupil how he is seen by his fellow students. Even when the judgments of other students about an individual are incorrect, they may help him to ask, “What have I done that makes other students see me as they do?” In one high school the students who were nominated for various offices were brought together in a number of conferences where they discussed the purposes and duties of the various positions and the kinds of ability and qualities essential for the each nominee was stimulated through these group discussions to examine himself and find out whether or not he had the attributes considered essential for the job for which he was nominated. In another school a still more interesting and daring plan was used. A selected group of seniors engaged in a free discussion of the qualities and characteristics of different members of the group. The teacher sat in the rear of the room and took no part in the discussion except when he was asked for his suggestions. One boy was selected as the subject for discussion, and a student evaluator gave in detail what he considered were the good and bad characteristics of the boy. When he had finished his summation, another student spoke in defence of the individual being discussed.
Finally, the boy himself was given an opportunity to speak. However, there was not the slightest evidence of hurt feelings by any of the students. The teacher in charge was confident that the plan was a very useful one in helping the student to understand himself and in helping fellow students and teachers to understand the individual. Perhaps the secret of the success of this plan was that the teacher had real sympathetic understanding of youth. He had not forgotten his own youth, as unfortunately is the case with many teachers, counsellors, and parents. Such devices are useful in helping the individual to develop an understanding of himself, which is essential for adjustment and for the solution of personal problems. He is a strange mixture of a boy and a man.
The entire direction of his future depends upon choices that are made, and wise choices are determined by the degree to which he understands himself. Wise counsel by sympathetic and understanding teachers and counsellors can be of great help at this time.