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Helping Your Teen Build Self-Esteem


Cultivating self-esteem can be a challenge for many teens, and parents are often in the most actionable positions to help their kids through their most challenging developmental periods. Helping your teen build self-esteem is a multifaceted issue, and no two families will face the same challenges. Some teens have naturally high self-esteem but may still struggle to cope with constant media bombardment of unrealistic body types and standards of attractiveness. Some teens have lower self-esteem despite being conventionally attractive or having strong features. Self-esteem may have strong ties to physical characteristics, but it is largely an issue of perception.

Understanding Teen Self-Esteem Issues

Adolescence is a difficult phase for everyone. Physical and hormonal changes can make a teenager hyperaware of the slightest changes to his or her body, potentially causing serious psychological issues if they become obsessed with apparent “flaws” or inability to meet unrealistic beauty standards. Teens are also generally quite sensitive to comments about their looks and overall image; parents must tread carefully to offer constructive support instead of thinly-veiled criticism a teen could take to heart.

How Parents Can Help

Parents are in the best possible position to encourage their children to develop healthy self-images. It may be difficult to have a conversation with your teen about his or her self-esteem, so instead of pushing the issue if you suspect a problem, stay receptive and try to have an organic conversation about your teen’s self-esteem.

Stay Receptive

Pushing a conversation will ultimately get you nowhere with most teens. Your child may not feel ready to talk about his or her self-esteem issues and pushing a conversation will put him or her on the defensive. This is not a good method for starting a constructive conversation, so consider waiting until your teen brings up a self-esteem related issue and then strive to have a positive conversation.

Be A Good Role Model

If you are constantly complaining about things you do not like about yourself, your teen will absorb this attitude and start criticizing him or herself. If a teen observes a parent with a healthy attitude concerning his or her self-image, this indirectly builds confidence. You may even want to try talking about the self-esteem issues you struggled with as a child or still struggle with so your child knows he or she is not alone.

Stay Vigilant

Teens’ bodies undergo significant changes in the teenage years. Your child may suddenly gain or lose a great deal of weight in a short time. While this may not always indicate a problem, parents should still pay close attention to any major physical changes. If your teen appears to have very low energy, has a sudden noticeable weight fluctuation, or you notice marked behavioral changes, these could be signs of an eating disorder, the beginning of a substance abuse problem, or psychological distress from low self-esteem.

Be Positive And Encouraging

If you notice your teen could stand to lose a few pounds, you can rest assured that he or she is well aware of this fact. Instead of encouraging him or her to lose weight, remember that this could simply be a symptom of puberty and your child growing into his or her adult body. However, you should not ignore obvious signs of poor health or destructive life choices. If your child appears to be upset about his or her body, try complimenting him or her on other things and build his or her self-esteem by emphasizing his or her strongest features and best personality traits.

Encourage Healthy Habits

A healthier body naturally encourages a healthier mind and more positive outlook. Minimize the amount of junk food you keep in the house and encourage a varied and nutritious diet. Help your teen develop healthy eating habits as early as possible. An individual in better physical shape will likely feel better about him- or herself than a person who eats poorly and never exercises.

Dangers Of Negative Body Image And Low Self-Esteem

Teens who struggle with low self-esteem or body image issues are more likely to seek validation in unhealthy ways. Some teens may engage in risky or outright dangerous behavior in seeking approval from their peers. Many people with low self-esteem tend to prioritize approval from others over their personal happiness. This creates a destructive pattern that is very difficult to break in adulthood.

On the other hand, cultivating an unrealistically high level of self-esteem can lead to arrogance, stubbornness, and unwillingness to compromise. While you should never do anything to make your child think less of him- or herself, you should also try to prevent your teen from developing an inflated ego that will cause problems later in life. There is nothing wrong with high levels of confidence, as long as they are grounded in reality and your teen has a respectful outlook toward others.

Be Vigilant, Available, And Responsive

Teens often struggle silently with their self-esteem issues. This can create a dangerous cycle of feeling unworthy of help, which in turn makes him or her feel worse about him- or herself, which then makes it harder for him or her to ask for help. If your child feels like he or she has no one to turn to for help, or no way to improve this, will undoubtedly cause a dangerous cycle that could lead to destructive habits like eating disorders, substance abuse, or even criminal activity.

Parents can help their children avoid these issues by helping them cultivate healthy levels of self-esteem early in life. Help your teen honestly assess his or her perceived strengths and weaknesses and make sure he or she knows you are always available for help. When your teen isn’t forthcoming about his or her self-esteem issues, stay alert for any worrisome changes in your teen’s physical health or behavior and don’t be afraid to bring these concerns up in constructive conversations. Everyone deals with self-esteem issues at some point, and the teenage years are full of uncertainty, difficult changes, and coming to terms with adult reality. Parents are in the best possible position to help their children develop strong identities.

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