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March 23, 2017 —

When you love yourself, you don't rely on others for your self-esteem or self-image. When you love yourself, you feel comfortable in your skin and accept yourself for who you are. When you love yourself, you don't turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Teaching teenagers self-love is an important step in preventing substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors. Simply put: self-love saves lives.

What self-love isn't

Self-love isn't narcissism. Teens are naturally self-absorbed – their hormones are raging, their bodies are changing and they think almost entirely about themselves and the present moment. Self-love isn't posting a hundred bathroom-mirror selfies on social media just to get "likes," because self-love isn't about other people. True self-love exists even in the absence of others’ approval.

Self-love isn't instant gratification, and it isn't hedonism. For example, substance abuse may make you feel good in the moment, but the feeling doesn't last, and the repercussions can be devastating. 

What self-love is

True self-love involves taking care of yourself in the long-term. Self-love is self-nourishment. It’s about taking care of yourself like you'd take care of a child or best friend. Self-love means you regard your own wellbeing and happiness highly. It means not being self-destructive, or putting the welfare of others over your own health. If your teen is someone who always worries about pleasing and taking care of others, it's important to help them realize that their own health and happiness should come first. The only person whose approval your teen needs is their own. This isn't selfishness. It's selfish to demand your teen to put the needs of others above their own wellbeing. 

Teenagers who love themselves take care of their own needs, treat themselves kindly and don’t criticize themselves too harshly. So-called shortcomings are areas for potential and possibility, not personal failings. They don't compare themselves to others or look to others for an idea of who they should be. To cultivate self-love, teens need to stay away from people who make them feel poorly about themselves, and surround themselves with those who support the things they are passionate about. Teens should spend time doing what they love, what they believe they're good at and what makes them feel good about themselves.

The more your teen feels capable, the easier self-love will be. Your teen also needs to know you think they're capable of success and taking care of themselves. To teach your teen self-love, you can't do everything for them, but you can support them. 

Try this self-love exercise with your teen: 

  1. Have your teen list what they appreciate about themselves. It can be anything – the only criteria is that they list things that are true to who they are, and not things they do because they think others expect it of them or they think it's what's cool. 
  2. See if they can list 25-50 things. If that’s hard for them to do, have them carry their list around with them over the course of several days, and ask them to add to it as things occur to them. 
  3. Have them review their list. Give them a moment to acknowledge what’s on it. The more they review this list and add to it, the more this exercise will work.

Self-love takes practice and work. In my work as a family therapist in Santa Monica, California, this is something I tell patients every day. For teens, self-love can be hard. Peer pressure and bullying, which have become more sinister with the advent of social media, can make it especially difficult. The more time your teen spends doing things they love and the more they surround themselves with healthy, supportive adults and peers, the better. 

Our ability to lead successful, satisfying lives starts with having a healthy relationship with ourselves. When we’re grounded, in our body and the present, mindfully aware of what’s going on inside us—even if we don’t like it, even if it’s uncomfortable—we feel much safer and content with who we are. For your teen to grow into a more grounded, embodied person, they must become comfortable exploring their thoughts and emotions. The better they know themselves, the more they will love themselves. The more they love themselves, the easier it'll be for them to stay away from harmful behaviors, including drugs and medicine abuse. 

Dr. Andrea Brandt is a family therapist located in Santa Monica California. Andrea brings over 35 years of clinical experience to her work. She is a recognized expert in treating a full range of emotional issues and conducts couples counseling, group therapy and anger management classes in addition to individual family therapy. In her workshops, patient sessions and presentations, Dr. Brandt reveals positive paths to emotional health that teach people how to reinvent and empower themselves. She emphasizes the mind-body-heart connection as a key to mental, physical and emotional wellness. You can connect with Dr. Brandt at abrandtherapy.com, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.