Tips for Nurturing Your Teen’s Self-Esteem
“No one wants to hang out with me.”
“I’m not cool and I’m not smart.”
“Do my friends actually like me?”
These kinds of negative thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety and depression are becoming more and more common among today’s teens, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. School, fears about the future, and issues at home or conflicts in social circles can all contribute to a teen’s low self-esteem and negative thinking. Furthermore, such negative thoughts and emotions can pave the way for taking part in risky behaviors, such as substance use.
While it is not possible to control all outside influences that can cause a teen to have a negative sense of self, there are steps parents can take to help build their teen’s self-esteem and be confident in their abilities to handle peer pressure, navigate challenging social relationships, make good decisions, and recover from setbacks.
If your teen exhibits signs of low self-esteem, there are certain steps you can take to help them break out of a pattern of negative thinking:
- Start by helping your teen recognize and challenge their inner critic. Point out how their negative thoughts about themselves aren’t true and help them see how being overly harsh can be detrimental to their mental health.
- Help your teen see that negative thoughts are often judgment-based, not reality-centered. Show your teen they have the power to change the negative thoughts or beliefs that can distort their perception of reality. Guide them in transforming these negative thoughts and beliefs into empowering affirmations that inspire and uplift them.
- Guide your teen toward positive self-talk. How we talk to ourselves can have powerful effects, whether negative or positive. If your teen often disparages themselves or doubts their abilities, show them how to channel that thinking toward something positive. Then, encourage them to make constructive self-talk a habit. Serve as a role model for your teen by holding yourself to the same standard.
Besides rewriting the inner dialogue, you can also take steps to help your teen build a healthy self-image:
- Celebrate what your teen does well. Support your teen’s growth and development with descriptive praise to celebrate good choices and hard work in specific situations.
- Focus on effort instead of perfection. Do not expect perfection out of your teen, as that can set them up for failure. Instead, praise your teen for effort made and the accomplishments achieved through those efforts.
- Reframe mistakes into learning opportunities. Instead of criticizing, panicking, or glossing over a failure, start a conversation with your teen by asking them questions like “where did things get off track?”, “what did you learn from this situation?”, and “what would you do differently if you could do it again?”
- Encourage ownership of decisions and opinions. Show your teen the importance of committing to their decisions and learning how to say no in a decisive yet respectful way. This will help them more effectively communicate their boundaries and opinions.
- Give back to others through volunteering. A Journal of Adolescence study shows getting involved in the community is a great way for teens to build their self-esteem. Encourage your teen to tutor a classmate, help clean up your neighborhood, walk for a good cause, or volunteer at the local animal shelter to help them become more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As teens struggle with self-esteem issues, our urge may be to jump in and fix their problems, whatever we perceive them to be. While understandable, instead try to encourage and nourish the development of healthy mental habits within your teen that boost their confidence and feelings of self-worth.
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