Teen self-esteem is not as tricky as you might think. It’s actually quite easy to understand. Think of their self-esteem as a finicky orchid flower that needs constant attention and its environment around it always seems to be conspiring to wilt it! It is very much the same with an adolescent’s self-esteem.
I was bullied for most of my childhood, and the teen years were no different! One of my vivid memories of low self-esteem was when I was in Grade 10. I was nominated and consequently elected to be part of the student body government, and my first thought was: ‘Is this some clever, cruel rouse yet again?’ as that had been my experience in the past. I had such low self-esteem that I couldn’t see that my peers had finally accepted me and saw my leadership potential. The truth of it is, I wasn’t equipped with self-esteem coping ‘tools’ and since then, I have spent much of my time educating adolescents and adults alike on how to cultivate healthy self-esteem.
Let’s be honest. You love your child unconditionally, and you see all of the wonderful qualities in your child. But how often do you voice your adoration and admiration to your teen? One of the best ways to encourage your child and nourish their self- esteem is through verbal praise or as Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, calls it “words of affirmation.” (Gary’s book is an excellent resource on how to express love and to communicate with your teen.) The more often we hear words of genuine praise, the more inclined we are to believe them. Celebrate your teen’s victories, big and small. Praise them on making a good choice when faced with a friendship dilemma or thank them for doing a wonderful job on their chores. Remember, how you talk to your teen becomes their inner voice.
Model high self-esteem. Teens spend at least 10 hours a day away from home, which means you have limited time to make a positive impact that will equip them to deal with the outside world. Choose to model high self-esteem through positive daily interactions with your teen and the people in your life. Children learn early social skills by watching their parents interact with people. Keep that in mind as you go about your daily routine and when your teen is with you. Are you smiling? Do you talk positively about your own body? Do you have an ‘I can do it!’ attitude toward challenges? Your teen is watching you, and they are learning how to react in similar situations. So the next time you see your “Easter bunny tummy” in the mirror, instead of groaning and saying, “I hate my body,” try acknowledging your body in a more positive way: “It looks like my body is trying to tell me to be mindful of what I eat and exercise”; thereby modeling positive self-esteem to your teen.
Did you know that one the most important predictors in high self-esteem and belief in oneself is the amount of time spent together as a family (regardless of how unconventional or conventional your family unit is)? When you sit down to share a meal together, it allows you to create a healthy connection, time for conversation and to genuinely listen to your teen without distractions. This, in turn, builds the child’s resilience levels up by experiencing positive social interactions. Learning begins at home - and learning how to socialize in a positive way is no different! Dinners and family time together is also a great way to help your child dream and talk about your teen’s aspirations. When you know your child’s dreams, you become their number one motivator on their road to success.
Healthy self-esteem allows us to interact with others with confidence; as a result, we seek healthier relationships and choose friends who treat us well. We understand our own self-worth, and are more likely to set realistic goals and achieve them. Nourish your teen’s self-esteem by doing what you do best: encouraging and loving your wonderful teen!
How can you instil healthy self-esteem in your teen?
1. Respect. Respect your child by listening to their worries and consider the problem as their truth because at this moment, this is what they are experiencing.
2. Verbal praise. Words of affirmation are the quickest way to boost confidence.
3. New experiences. Allow for a certain level of risk- taking as it boosts independence.
4. Model. Parental self-esteem is a great determinant of your teen’s esteem.
5. Eat dinner together. Allow for time to chat and strengthen bonds.
6. I can do it! Demonstrate the ‘I can’ attitude when faced with challenges.
7. Dream big! Create a dream board and talk about your teen’s aspirations.
8. Friendships. Encourage friendships. Being accepted by peers is a crucial factor in predicting high self-esteem.
9. After-school activities. Studies show teens are more resilient if they have activities that allow them to build their own community.
10. Have fun! Remember to take the time to be silly and have fun together! The primary factor here is time spent together.
Marina Agafonov is a Registered Provisional Psychologist who specializes in the areas of depression, anxiety, self-esteem and empowerment for children, teens and women.
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