Growing up, I felt like I was too skinny. When I flipped through magazines, I wished my boobs were bigger like the models and my curves were more pronounced. Now, with social media bringing images of a curvaceous Kylie Kardashian or a buff Zac Efron into the smartphones in the palms of their hands, its it’s even more difficult for teenagers to gain high self-esteem.
As a parent of three teenagers, I struggle with saying the right thing to them. My response to a simple question about my daughter’s hairstyle or clothing choice can turn into a big drama that ends with me in the dog house and unsure if I’ve done damage to her self esteem. So how do we help our teenagers feel good about themselves?
A person’s teenage years are full of challenges. There seems to be an endless amount of homework to do and tests to study for, fitting in with the right group of friends is easier said than done, balancing school, work and extra-curricular activities is practically a tightrope act, and sometimes, personal life on top of academic stress is just too much to handle.
Anybody would want to take a breather from it all! But the number one obstacle teens face through this pivotal time in their lives is developing a healthy relationship with themselves and managing their self-esteem.
If low self-esteem is not acknowledged and approached, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and hold our teens back from their truest potential. Therefore, as parents, we need to notice the signs of low self-esteem and take preventative measures to help combat it.
Here are the signs and what to do about them:
Negative self-talk and excessive self-criticism
Does your teen tend to be a little too hard on themselves? If so, encourage them to engage in positive self-talk rather than a negative one. For example, if they received a bad grade on an exam, and you hear them saying “I’m just not good at math” reassure them that there will always be more tests to take and talking to their professor about the grade can help them improve for next time.
Blaming themselves for a bad grade or believing they are bad at a subject does nothing but harm them and cause unnecessary guilt. Instead of using a voice of self-blame, teens should speak to themselves with compassion and kindness, and focus on what could have been done better and the actions they can take to make a positive change rather than just think about what went wrong and the problem itself.
Lack of motivation or interest in activities
The number one reason why a teen may lack motivation or interest in activities is that they may not feel adequate or good enough to participate in them, so they avoid trying altogether. Remind them that choosing to engage in hobbies or activities isn’t for the sake of becoming perfect at them, it’s to feel fulfilled, accomplished, and excited to simply participate in them at all. When your teen has any remote interest in an activity, encourage them to give it a try and not worry about developing advanced skills – just have fun!
Fear of failure, making mistakes, and suffering embarrassment
Your teen is a human being like everyone else in their world, and they should always remember that. Making mistakes, failing, and getting embarrassed are all inevitable parts of living, they cannot be avoided no matter how hard your teen tries. Help them cultivate a healthy relationship with failure, flaws, and the not-so-graceful moments of life, rather than provoke or intensify their fears. What teens need most to overcome these fears is the attitude of acceptance and understanding to develop emotional resilience.
Difficulty making friends and acting in social situations
Anyone who’s an adult can remember the high school days and the feeling of wanting to fit in with the crowd or group of friends – our teens still experience it today! Around this time, every teenager is still exploring and figuring out their identity. Encourage them to embrace their interests and to not focus on trying to be liked by everyone or certain people. Instead, they should choose to interact with people who share their interests, care about their well-being, and want to be friends for the right reasons.
Isolates themselves from loved ones
Teens are always going to want their own space, but it shouldn’t be to the point where they shut out everyone from their life. A teen demonstrating this kind of behavior may be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety of a sort, or even a teen addiction to technology or substances, for example, but many other reasons may be the case. Gently coax your teen out of their space to speak with you and open the door for discussion on why they feel the need to isolate themselves from others. Give them your undivided attention and don’t jump to conclusions.
Low self-esteem can be prevented and improved upon as long as parents recognize the signs and take action against them. What teens want most is validation for their feelings, and as parents, we can give them that with positive encouragement, praise, and affirmations and remind them they will always be good enough. But we should also remind them that the most important opinion in their lives is the one they have of themselves.