What Is Self Esteem?
Self-esteem is a term used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth. A person should ideally have a realistic yet positive view of themselves and their abilities. The opinion you have of yourself, of your own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors, can affect how you feel about life in general.
People with positive self esteem feel liked and accepted, are proud of what they do and believe in themselves.
People with low self esteem lack confidence about who they are and what they can do. They often feel incompetent, unloved, or inadequate. People who struggle with low self-esteem are hard on themselves, think they’re not good enough, are afraid about making mistakes or letting other people down.
Kids who seemed confident throughout childhood may struggle to maintain self-assurance during the teen years. It is normal for many adolescents to have self-doubt, a questionable body image, and insecurity. But for adolescents who have low self-esteem, it may show up as feelings such as despair, hopelessness or inadequacy.
Being too shy or anxious to try new things could actually increase your risk of developing mental health problems as an adult. The more you expose yourself to risks and challenges while you’re young, the more confident you’ll become about overcoming obstacles later on in life.
Therefore self-esteem is an important measure of adolescent mental health and development into adulthood.
Why Your Child’s Self Esteem Is Important
If you teen has a healthy self esteem they are more likely to try new things and deal with life challenges. It allows them to take healthy risks and solve problems. They are more independent, take pride in their accomplishments and deal with frustrating situations maturely.
When they have a low self esteem, they will avoid situations or challenges where they believe that they will fail. They’re scared to make mistakes. This can affect their school life, making friends, and trying new things.
Low self-esteem can lead to a number of psychological, physical, and social consequences that may negatively influence adolescent development and the transition to adulthood. These may include:
- Difficulty making friends
- Mood swings
- Low motivation
- Poor body image
- Earlier sexual activity (especially in girls)
- Substance abuse – drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs to feel better
- Eating disorders
- Self harm
- Fewer years of post-secondary education
- Greater likelihood of joblessness
- Financial difficulties
- Poorer physical health
- Higher rates of criminal behavior
- Violent behavior
What Can Cause Low Self Esteem?
The most common causes of low self esteem in teenagers are based on the experiences they’ve had with the people in our lives.
Your self-esteem is a reflection of your inner voice. Your inner voice, or the thoughts in your head, can be constantly telling you that you are not good enough or worth anything. Sometimes, the voice in our head is based on harsh words others have said. Or on bad times we have faced. Sometimes, the voice is just us being hard on ourselves. This negative thinking often leads to low self-esteem and low self-worth leaving people feeling alone, unworthy, and insecure.
Unsupportive parents or carers play an influential role in a child’s self esteem. When we focus on what they do well, they feel good about themselves. If we’re patient when they make mistakes, they learn that it’s okay and accept themselves. However, if adults are impatient and point out the negatives more than the positives, then it’s hard to feel good about yourself.
Not fitting in and feeling left out can be a very lonely feeling. Bullying by peers can also severely hurt self esteem. It’s important for teens to try to choose friends who they can be themselves with.
Any stressful life event like divorce or moving as well as abuse can have a serious impact on your teens self esteem.
Not all children do well in school. Setting unrealistic goals or comparing them to others, can definitely lead to poor self esteem.
Other risk factors include
Lack of exercise, excessive screen time & obesity. These all go hand in hand, as the less sport a child does, and more sedentary s/he is, the higher the likelihood that they might not get enough exercise and be overweight.
Signs Your Teen Might Have Low Self Esteem
How does your teen interact with others. Does he look down and avoid eye contact with peers and adults? Younger children might be shy, but in their teens they should have more confidence and feel worthy enough to speak to others as equals.
Low self-esteem is generally perpetuated by self-disparaging, negative self-talk statements. If they often say things like “I can’t do that” or “There’s no way that I’ll get on that team”, they’re indicating that they have a negative opinion of themselves or their capabilities. This is a common indicator of low self esteem.
Putting others down
What are your teen’s conversations about others like? Teenagers who feel bad about themselves will often seek to be negative about others. Sometimes teens will be critical of others who exhibit similar qualities that they don’t like about themselves. It could also be a defense mechanism of making themselves feel or look better by making others look worse.
A teenager who is confident in themselves may not need to brag about their accomplishments. A person who does this most likely has low self-esteem and is trying to convince others they are valuable by overcompensating.
Watching for nonverbal signs is a good way to understand what may be going on in their world. Does your teen’s posture look “minimizing,” that is, does he walk with his head down and looking at the ground? This tells a lot about how confident someone may be. Confidence varies from person to person- for some people it might mean walking around confidently with their head held high while they make eye contact.
The amount of time your teenage son spends in his room is one indicator. Does he spend hours and days away from the outside world? Is he declining invitations to go to a party or meet up with friends, canceling scheduled plans last-minute, and generally not wanting to be around others? A teenager who has few friends, avoids socializing and spends all their time in their room, could be suffering from low self-worth. These days most children will spend a lot more time online. It’s normal for your teen to be playing games with friends and socializing online. However, watching hours of YouTube or TikTok, with no social interaction, does not contribute to a healthy social life.
Afraid of trying new things
Does your teen shy away from new activities or challenges? Adolescents should be curious to try new things. At this age their curiosity in new activities and testing out their abilities should outweigh their fear of failure.
It’s important to watch if your teen seems to constantly apologize as this may be an indication of low self-worth. Teens with lower esteem tend to feel worthless and will continuously apologize for their actions even when it isn’t warranted.
Strategies To Improve Your Child’s Self Esteem
It’s easy to forget how difficult adolescence can be. All teens are going through major developmental changes, but these changes can be confusing and overwhelming for them. During these years it is normal for many adolescents to have self-doubt, a questionable body image, and insecurity. However, if these lead to feelings such as despair or hopelessness – it’s important to keep a close eye on their mental health and development.
Teaching your teenager how to use Positive Self-Talk is one of the best ways to boost their self-esteem.
Positive Self-Talk is a way to turn negative thinking into positive thinking.
Statements like “I can do this,” and “I know I tried my best,” should be encouraged, as they promote self-worth and help them recover from tough situations.
When things go wrong, it’s okay for teens to feel disappointed or frustrated – but they shouldn’t dwell on these feelings.
One of the best ways to do this is by modeling self confidence yourself. Your teen will learn the most about confidence based on what you do & say about yourself.
Making critical statements about your body and abilities will teach your child to do the same.
Different parenting styles come into play here.
The tone one takes in speaking to your child can have a huge impact on how they regard themselves.
It’s sometimes not only what you say, but also how you say it.
Be supportive. Focus on what they do well. Point out the positives more than the negatives.
Be patient when they make mistakes. This will teach them that it’s okay to try and make mistakes and accept themselves.
It’s easy to micromanage your teen and make them feel like you think they can’t do anything, but it will only reinforce their opinion that they can’t make good decisions.
Give them the right amount of freedom, with plenty of guidance from you.
Use these opportunities to teach your teen skills so that when they’re out in the real world making their own choices, they’ll be more equipped for success. Letting your teen experience natural consequences is a great way for them to learn from their mistakes and build resilience*. This will result in increased confidence in their ability to make healthy choices as well as a better understanding of why certain behaviors are unhealthy.
* You can read more about ‘How To Help Kids Build Resilience’ here.
Focus on the effort not the result
For some reason children think that they have to win or be the best to be successful. It’s important to teach and encourage your child that it’s more important to try and be proud of your efforts rather than the end result. They don’t have to be perfect. Making mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities, not failures.
Set Realistic Goals
Help your teen learn how to set realistic goals and set out the steps to accomplish them. This is a learned process. The more your teen accomplishes each step to reach their goal, the better they will feel about themselves and grow their self-esteem.
Try New Things
Encourage your teenager to try new things. Trying new activities, discovering hidden talents, and challenging themselves can help grow teens’ confidence. Be mindful that many teens are afraid of failure and don’t want to embarrass themselves.
Encourage your teen to join a new club or sports team, play a musical instrument, engage in volunteer work, or find a part-time job. Mastering new skills and meeting new friends can be a great self-esteem booster for your teen. Be a positive role model by trying new things and facing new situations with courage and confidence yourself.
Exercise has been shown to significantly increase self-esteem. Exercise can improve mental health, reduce stress, and can help you gain a sense of accomplishment. In the short term, exercise can put your mind in a more positive state and enhance mood.
If self-esteem issues are tied to body perception, regular exercise helps build confidence by improving our body image. While exercising you’re likely to strengthen and tone your body, and seeing these results can greatly improve your self-esteem and help you feel better about the way you look.
Plus, when we exercise we feel accomplished because of all the hard work that goes into achieving your goals.
Team sports participation
Apart from trying something new and getting much-needed exercise, participating in a team sport will give your teen the opportunity to make friends and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Give and Help Others
Giving is one the best ways to feel good about your actions and yourself and to build self-esteem. Discuss ways where your teen can be of help to others. They could help out at home, at school, or in the neighborhood. Perhaps they can tutor a classmate or sibling. There may be a cause that your teen is particularly interested in. When you do things that make a difference (even a small one) your self-esteem will grow.
I hope this post has given you some insight into why self-esteem is so important for our teens and how we can help them work towards feeling better about themselves and build confidence in their development into adulthood.
For more guidance, here’s a wonderful self-esteem workbook that has had great reviews from parents and teens alike.