Self-esteem is a person’s perception of their self-worth and is an important part of succeeding in life and being happy. How we view ourselves affects how we act with others and influences what we believe we can achieve. Teenagers commonly struggle with poor self-esteem because they are still developing a sense of who they are and what they are capable of.
As a parent you can help your teenager develop a positive self-image and high self-esteem.
Think of building self-esteem in your teen the same as instilling them with confidence. Confidence gives us ambition, hope, and courage. Teenagers with high self-esteem, and confidence are more likely to take on new challenges, assume responsibility, take pride in accomplishments, and handle failure or setbacks in stride.
Teenagers who have low self-esteem and lack confidence are more likely to avoid challenges, be influenced by others, show disinterest, and doubt their own abilities.
As a parent you have a tremendous ability to improve your teenager’s self-esteem without him even knowing it. Here are five ways to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and bring out the best in your teenager:
1. Give plenty of real praise.
Make a habit of pointing out what you like about your teenager and not just the big stuff. For example, "I really like that I only have to ask you to do your homework once. You are a really responsible kid," or "Thank you for taking your sister to soccer practice. You are a great brother," or "I liked the way you handled that situation, that was very mature for your age."
Appropriate praise will reinforce good behaviors and help your teenager feel appreciated and good about what she does. It is also important to give praise when you genuinely feel pleased with your teen. Do not give praise for praise’s sake because teenagers will be able to pick up on the inauthentic vibe and your praises will have less meaning. It is a common misconception that praising your teenagers often will make them self-centered. If you praise genuinely and respond to bad behavior firmly, but without attacking her character, there’s no reason to feel that praise will make your teenager a narcissist. If you
are happy with your teenagers let them know it!
2. Avoid Comparisons.
"You know, Evelyn’s kid Bobby got a full scholarship to go to Harvard. Maybe if you studied more …" Although many parents may use comparisons to motivate, it will most likely leave your teenager feeling inferior and that you are disappointed in him. Focus on what he can do to better himself without making him feel that compared to others he is not as good. Apply the same thinking to comparing siblings to avoid rivalries and feelings of favoritism.
3. Encourage healthy living.
A big part of self-esteem is feeling good about your physical appearance and health. Prepare healthy meals for your teens and reward physical activity.
After-school sports or clubs can help develop a sense of belonging and structure. Planning family outings such as bike rides, walks, camping, or beach activities is a good way to encourage everyone in the family to move around a little more. Remember that it’s your teenager’s health that matters, not her physical appearance. So when you talk to your teenager about it, emphasize the healthy aspects of healthy diet and exercise and say that looking good is a nice bonus but it’s not the whole story. You want to send the message that you’ll love her no matter how she looks and that what’s really important to you is her health.
4. Don’t attack character.
Avoid criticism, name-calling, or scolding during times of discipline. For example, responses to negative behavior such as "Why are you such a slob? Is it that hard to clean up after yourself?" can build up over time and instill a sense of worthlessness in your teen. Respond with the action you want such as "I want you to clean up dishes that you use." Keeping your composure is key here. If your teenager doesn’t respond well, create a rule around the issue and match it with a consequence. Here you almost want to take yourself out of the equation. The consequence is happening because he broke the rule, not because you are unhappy with him. To help him feel empowered, give him a choice of consequences. Feeling you have some control over your environment definitely
5. Help her feel accomplished.
As teenagers get older, their sense of self-esteem is less reliant on their relationship with their parents and more based on their actual abilities in the real world and their peer relationships. Help your teenager find an activity that she excels at and encourage it. Being good or great at something helps children and teens gain overall confidence. Everyone has strengths. Help her find her talents and let her know how pleased it makes you.
Miguel Brown has a master's in marriage and family therapy from the University of Miami and has been working with both English- and Spanish-speaking teenagers and their families for 10 years. Connect with him at miamiteencounseling.com.