As adults, we have enough miles on our tires to realize the importance of having a healthy self-esteem. We know that to succeed in our careers, or any endeavor we care about, we need a positive sense of self-worth that will fuel our efforts. Our self-esteem is essential to how we present ourselves to the world. How we feel about ourselves is expressed through our actions, body language, and attitude in just about every interaction we participate in daily.
But many of us can clearly recall how insecure we felt as teens. We may have felt awkward, gawky, or invisible among our peers. We may have suffered academically because we didn’t trust in our own abilities. We may have avoided areas of interest such as sports or music because we felt we didn’t measure up to the other teens. Indeed, confident, self-assured adults don’t always start out that way!
As parents of teenagers, we may now recognize the same painful signs of low self-esteem in our own kids. It is painful for a parent to know their son or daughter is struggling with feelings of insecurity or lack of confidence in themselves. So, how to help a teenager with low self-esteem?
What Causes Low Self-Esteem in Teens?
At first glance it may seem that a teen that suffers from low self-esteem is just moody or looking for attention. They may mope around, avoid social contact, or bury themselves in social media, which can also be symptoms of depression. So what causes a teen to feel so bad about him or herself?
Low self-esteem can be sparked by a number of factors. These might include:
- Poor academic performance. This may be due to a learning disability or ADHD, or just underachievement. Whatever the reason, doing poorly in school while watching peers managing their studies satisfactorily can lead to a feeling of not being inferior or less intelligent than others.
- Interpersonal struggles. When a teen has difficulty with communication skills they may find they struggle to establish lasting friendships. Being socially awkward during the teen years is fairly common, and can be a source of great distress and loss of confidence.
- Environmental factors. Some teens are sensitive about their socioeconomic status or might feel embarrassed by their family situation. Teens tend to want to fit in, so when they feel their family is somehow different from the other kids they may begin to feel like they will never be accepted.
- History of neglect or abuse. Teens who were physically or sexually abused in childhood often grow up to have serious mental health issues, including very low self-esteem.
- Negative thought patterns. Teens can engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy through negative thinking. If they stew about things or get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, such as “nobody wants to hang out with me,” their dour attitude will lead to exactly that, which then leads to low self-esteem.
- Negative body image. Teens become very focused on their physical body image and appearance, which can lead to becoming overly critical of themselves. Teens can be harsh to each other, body shaming or bullying others who don’t fit the mold. This can result in low self-esteem.
Some kids may just feel as if they do not fit in with their peers. They may have entirely different interests than their schoolmates and simply can’t relate, resulting in few friends. The teen might be dealing with a gender identity issue that makes them feel self-conscious. These can negatively impact a teen’s self esteem.
What Are the Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Your Teenager?
Negative self-image manifests itself in a number of different ways. Being able to identify the signs of distress can help the parent know how to help a teenager with low self-esteem. These might include:
- Isolating behaviors. Low self-esteem often dovetails with depression, each which may lead to the teen preferring to spend time alone.
- Uses body language that signals low self-esteem, such as slouching or walking with the head down.
- Excessive bragging. Teens who resort to bragging a lot are usually overcompensating for their own low self-image.
- Disordered eating habits. Eating disorders can emerge as a result of low self-esteem, as having control over their food intake is empowering to them. Binge eating can be a sign of using food to soothe emotional distress.
- Negative tone and attitude when talking about others. A teen may put others down to help them elevate his or her own sense of self-worth.
- Few friends. The teen may have few friends as a result of their negative attitude or excessive bragging.
- Negative talk, such as “I am stupid,” “I will never pass that test,” or “I could never do that.” A defeatist attitude.
- Irrational feelings of guilt or shame. Teens with low self-esteem may personalize something that is not their fault, leading to feelings of guilt or shame.
- Constantly apologizing. Teens with low self-esteem may feel they are inferior or not worthy, leading them to constantly apologize for everything they say or do.
- Prefers the fantasy world. Video games are an outlet where the teen can escape to a fantasy world, versus engaging in conversation or social activities where they may feel awkward.
- Avoids competition. Low self-esteem may prevent the teen from going out for sports or extracurricular activities.
How Low Self-Esteem Can Negatively Impact a Teen
Parents are right to be concerned by their teen’s low self-esteem. It is upsetting to see a child struggling with a negative self-image. Low self-esteem can have a wide range of adverse consequences, negatively impacting a teen’s quality of life and limiting their opportunities.
When a teen suffers from low self-image they tend to avoid the situations that may introduce the possibility of failure or ridicule. They lack the confidence to try new things or set more challenging goals for themselves. This limits their exposure to learning new skills or tackling more rigorous subjects in school, which can diminish chances of going to the college of choice later. Low self-esteem can also affect interpersonal relationships, as making new friends may be too intimidating and pose the risk of being rejected.
5 Tips How to Help a Teenager With Low Self-Esteem
When a parent wonders how to help a teenager with low self-esteem they may be very concerned about their child’s mental health and want to help them. While it may seem like a daunting task, parents can help their teen overcome low self-esteem through some targeted efforts. Here are 5 helpful tips:
- Pay attention to the manner in which you speak to your teen, and other family members. Kids soak up parental words and behaviors. If the parent is overly critical it sends the message that the teen is just not good enough, or that he or she is somehow damaged goods. This messaging can foster the teen’s own negative self-talk that aligns with the hypercritical parent’s. Instead, focus on the teen’s positive traits with generous affirmations, and use criticism judiciously.
- Give the teen some small projects (not routine chores) to tackle around the house. To motivate them, offer to pay the teen for their work upon completion. Completing a task satisfactorily can offer an opportunity to feel productive and a sense of accomplishment. Each finished project helps build self-confidence, which raises self-esteem.
- Do not expect perfection out of your teen, as that just sets the teen up for failure. Instead, praise the teen for effort made and the accomplishments achieved through those efforts. Compliment them for kind and thoughtful gestures or for any positive character traits, and avoid ridiculing or shaming the teen.
- Help them shift toward positive self-talk. How we talk to ourselves can have powerful effects, whether negative or positive. If the teen often disparages him or herself or doubts their abilities, show them how to turn that thinking around toward something positive.
- Encourage the teen to find a fit at school. Guide them toward selecting a club or group that may resonate with their own interests where they will fit in. Many high schools offer a myriad of extracurricular activities, something for everyone.
Mental Health Support for Teens With Low Self-Esteem
If a teen with low self-esteem continues to exhibit the signs regardless of concerted efforts by parents and mentors, it may benefit the teen to obtain some help from a mental health practitioner. The therapist can help identify if there is a mood disorder or an eating disorder that may require attention. Typically, mood disorders in teens are treated through outpatient services using psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy. If depression is diagnosed, the teen may also be prescribed an antidepressant as well.
It these measures do not make any demonstrable difference in the outward signs of low self-esteem, the teen may find a higher level of care at a residential mental health center for teens. These programs provide 24-hour support in a safe, comfortable setting where the teen can focus on making positive changes in thought and behavior patterns. The residential program offers tailored treatment plans, as well as experiential activities that complement the evidence-based therapies. Tutors are also provided to assist the teen with their studies while they are receiving treatment.
BNI Treatment Centers Provides Residential Teen Mental Health Services
BNI Treatment Centers is a Los Angeles-based residential program for teens in distress. BNI Treatment successfully treats teens who struggle with depression and anxiety as a result of a low self-esteem through a multi-modal approach. Each teen is viewed as a unique individual with specific needs and strengths, so the treatment plan will be customized to address those features. For parents wondering how to help a teenager with low self-esteem, BNI Treatment Centers provides the solutions. Call us today at (888) 522-1504