The adolescent years can be awkward and stressful. During this time, teen self-esteem can flicker and wane like a candle. With the advent of social media and other forms of online communication, self-esteem among adolescents has suffered even more.
Because poor self-esteem is directly associated with mental health, it’s vital to support teens in building a strong sense of their own worth and value.
Teen Self-Esteem and Mental Health
Self-esteem is directly associated with one’s mental health and well-being. A teen’s level of self-esteem determines how they interact in relationships, the decisions and choices they make, and their motivation at school or at work. People with high self-esteem find it easier to express their needs, say no when they want to, and focus on their positive qualities rather than their flaws.
Research shows that low teen self-esteem is the strongest predictor of depression in adolescents. Poor self-esteem is an underlying issue in most mental health and co-occurring disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. On the other hand, high self-esteem is a protective factor against mental health issues. In one study of adolescents, high self-esteem predicted fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression three years later. That’s why it’s so important to help teens build their appreciation and acceptance of themselves.
Building self-esteem is incredibly important for teens who belong to marginalized groups, including BIPOC teens and LGBTQ adolescents. As a whole, these populations have higher rates of mental health challenges due to the discrimination they experience all too often in society. Therefore, supporting minority and LGBTQ self-esteem can be life saving.
5 Ways to Build Teen Self-Esteem
How can parents and caregivers foster self-esteem in teens? Here are five approaches for how to build self-esteem and instill confidence in teens.
Encourage them to avoid comparisons.
One of the most damaging habits for teen self-esteem is constantly comparing themselves with others. Because they’re in the process of forming their identity, teens constantly measure themselves against their peers. They may compare appearance, material possessions, intellect, skills, talents, popularity, and more. This comparison can lead to an unhealthy body image, eating disorders, depression, and other issues.
Teens need to know that comparisons aren’t helpful for building self-esteem. A parent’s role is to teach their child that everyone is unique and that everyone has their own strengths. Instead of comparing, teens can build self-esteem by connecting with someone who appreciates and values them.
Guide them to use social media responsibly.
Social media provides endless fodder for comparison that undermines teen self-esteem. Because it’s so intensely curated, teens are always trying to live up to unrealistic standards. In fact, they may be curating their own images and creating the same vicious cycle with others. That’s part of why social media has been shown to increase depression and anxiety.
Parents should know which social media platforms their teen is using and the types of accounts they are following. Is your teen keeping up with friends? Following celebrities? Following accounts that encourage negative behaviors or self-harm?
Parents and kids can make an agreement limiting the use of social media and devices in general. It should be a discussion, not an order; helping teens understand the negative impact of too much screen time is more productive than fighting about limits or being totalitarian. Ask them questions about how social media makes them feel. Do they feel compelled to check it every few minutes? Are they obsessed with certain people or accounts? Are they stressed, anxious, sad, or angry after scrolling through their feeds? Emphasize the correlation between their feelings and their screen usage. Encourage them to evaluate their choices and how those choices impact their self-esteem.
Stay involved and keep communication going.
When teens push away in search of independence, parents sometimes think they should accept that distance and take a step back. Giving a teen space is fine, but not too much space. Staying involved in your teen’s life lets them know that you care—which may seem obvious to most parents. But it isn’t always a given for kids who aren’t feeling great about themselves.
Parenting styles have been shown to impact teen self-esteem. In one study, researchers determined that teens whose parents were involved in their teen’s lives, but not controlling, generally had higher self-esteem than their peers with less involved parents. Effective communication, emotional warmth, and using humor in parenting are also common predictors of higher self-esteem in adolescents.
Demonstrate unconditional love and self-compassion.
What’s the difference between self-confidence vs. self-esteem vs. self-compassion? Self-confidence and self-esteem both refer to how we see ourselves as people. Teens are in the process of building their sense of confidence and trust in themselves. Their bodies and hormones are changing, they often feel awkward and embarrassed, and they may not recognize in themselves the wonderful traits that others admire.
However, self-compassion is a little bit different—and more useful. Self-esteem and self-confidence are based (at least in part) on what we do and how well we do it. Self-compassion is the ability to extend compassion and love to ourselves whether we succeed or fail, whether we’re feeling good about ourselves or not so great. Research shows that self-compassion creates strong and stable feelings of self-worth.
When parents practice unconditional love and acceptance, it models for teens how to treat and think about themselves. (Practicing unconditional love and acceptance doesn’t mean being okay with everything your teen does. But it means you are always there for them.) Loving your teen no matter what will help them learn to love themselves. Demonstrating authentic love and compassion for your teen will help them develop self-compassion.
Help your teen help others.
One less obvious way to increase self-esteem is to encourage teens to help others. Volunteering is one of the best confidence-building exercises. Consider how good it feels to help other people; doing things for others produces genuinely happy and positive feelings. Service to others is also powerful because when teens are focused on other people, they are less likely to think negatively about ourselves.
Furthermore, research shows that volunteering offers mental and physical health benefits. When we help others, our brains produce more feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin and progesterone. In turn, these neurochemicals lower stress and promote overall health and well-being.
Treatment to Build Teen Self-Esteem at Newport Academy
At Newport Academy, we address underlying causes of mental health disorders, including low self-esteem. Through a variety of clinical and experiential modalities, our program gives teens opportunities to nurture their talents, create trusting relationships, and recognize their own inherent goodness and strength.
Our programs help boost teen self-esteem and restore mental health. Take action today to make a long-lasting positive difference in your teen’s life. Contact us to learn more.
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