How to Help My Teen Build Self-Esteem
Good kids, starting to make bad choices — many times parents will point to the choice of friends.
Your teen’s self-esteem is an important part of their self-image. It helps them feel worthwhile and more confident in making better choices – especially when it pertains to peer groups or even deciding to skip school.
A healthy self-esteem doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something that is nurtured and grown throughout a lifetime, and something that the important people in their life have a chance to help cultivate.
Here are some tips for boosting your teen’s self-esteem:
Avoid generic praise. Parents want kids to feel good about the things they do and to encourage them to repeat the types of behavior they value. So parents often say things like “Great job!” after everything from finishing vegetables at dinner to putting socks on in the morning to going down the slide at the park.
While generic congratulations feel good to a child for a short time, after too many times it becomes meaningless. In fact, congratulating a child for things that don’t require real effort can make a child lose trust in the parent’s honesty. Obviously this is an example for younger children – however the New York Time’s best seller by Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure, is an excellent example of over-praising a child and especially a teenager can actually hinder them, rather than help them.
Use specific praise generously. It’s helpful to a child’s self-esteem to hear from parents and other adults about their accomplishments, both big and small. Instead of using generic praise, let your child know how much you admire and appreciate his specific behavior. Phrases like “I appreciate your help with the housework. It means we have more time to go to the mall this weekend.” or “I’m so proud of how you tried new activities at school. It’s a great way to find out what your passionate about.” Will help your teen feel good about his abilities and choices.
Avoid negative labels. Most of the way we communicate with others is based in lifelong habits. Unfortunately some unhealthy habits may find their way into your parenting or care giving vocabulary. Labeling a child as being mean, lazy, uncoordinated or hyperactive, or calling him a whiner, liar or babyish can negatively affect his self-esteem. Children are sensitive to what the people they love think about them and words can have a huge effect. Choose your words carefully and talk about challenging behaviors or traits in positive terms.
Become a great listener. Giving your child your full attention and truly listening to what he is saying and how he feels is an immediate self-esteem booster.
When you turn off your phone, the TV and the computer and fully engage with your child it shows him that you really care about him and that you’re interested in what he has to say. That kind of undivided attention is rarer than it should be these days and will make your child feel valued and loved. In the same way – your teen need to turn off their phone and electronics to listen to you too.
Model healthy self-esteem. Your child looks to you for clues about how to think, act and feel. Make sure you’re sending the right message. Invest in developing your own healthy self-esteem and you’ll be on your way to helping your child develop it too. Have a positive body image, be confident about your abilities, and don’t let petty criticisms from the outside world make you feel bad about yourself and your choices.
If you struggle with esteem issues, talk about them with your child in an age appropriate way and show him the steps you’re taking to develop a healthy self-esteem. Showing your child that you’re not perfect, but that you’re working towards being better, gives him the freedom to accept his flaws too.
Teach problem solving skills. Teaching your child how to objectively assess a situation, brainstorm solutions, and put a plan into action is a proactive way of building self-esteem. Children who feel able to handle challenging situations, who recognize that when they get knocked down they can get right back up and try again, and who are confident that every problem has a solution have a strong sense of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is an important part of a child’s healthy emotional development. It acts like a suit of armor for your child, protecting him from many of the bumps and bruises that come with everyday life. It also gives him a strong foundation to build life skills on.
- Low self-esteem is a thinking disorder in which an individual views him/herself as inadequate, unlovable, and/or incompetent. Once formed, this negative view permeates every thought, producing faulty assumptions and ongoing self-defeating behavior.
- Among high school students, 44% of girls and 15% of guys are attempting to lose weight.
- Over 70% of girls age 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school, when they feel bad about their looks. Brighten someone’s day by posting encouraging messages on your school’s bathroom mirrors. Sign up for Mirror Messages.
- More than 40% of boys in middle school and high school regularly exercise with the goal of increasing muscle mass.
- 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating. This compares to 25% of girls with high self-esteem.
- About 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood.
- Teen girls that have a negative view of themselves are 4 times more likely to take part in activities with boys that they’ve ended up regretting later.
- The top wish among all teen girls is for their parents to communicate better with them. This includes frequent and more open conversations.
- 38% of boys in middle school and high school reported using protein supplements and nearly 6% admitted to experimenting with steroids.
- 7 in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members.
- A girl’s self-esteem is more strongly related to how she views her own body shape and body weight, than how much she actually weighs.
Be proactive and reach out for help. Finding a local adolescent therapist can sometimes help. If it has gone too far, you may have come to a point where residential therapy is the answer. Contact us for more information.