Cynthia Graton, psychoeducator
Your teen seems more impressionable, self-deprecating and unable to assert themselves. These are some of the signs that can characterize low self-esteem. How can you help your teenager be kind to themselves and see their full potential?
The teenage years are rarely peaceful or straightforward. Adolescence is a pivotal period of transformation in terms of both body and identity, which includes the development of self-esteem.
“Self-esteem is a person’s perception of his or her own value. It is the overall judgement that they make about themselves.”
Signs of low self-esteem in teens include:
- a general lack of confidence in their own worth and abilities;
- a tendency to strive for perfection in many spheres of their life (appearance, academic performance);
- difficulty asserting themselves and saying no;
- a fear of being judged or disappointing others;
- self-sabotaging behaviours (e.g. interpersonal relationships);
- a tendency to isolate themselves;
- being easily influenced by others.
It’s normal for teens to go through moments of doubt or fragility, but don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional if your child hasn’t been acting like themselves for some time, especially if the above signs persist or worsen.
Developing healthy self-esteem
Self-esteem starts developing in early childhood. The more a child feels loved, the more they will develop strong self-esteem. To help them, parents can:
- Emphasize their child’s skills and strengths;
- Give them some independence (e.g. letting them choose what clothes to wear);
- Provide a routine and a secure environment with clear rules.
On the other hand, a child who is overprotected, regularly criticized in a negative way or labelled based on their behaviours (e.g. being told they are lazy, hyperactive, etc.) risks having low self-esteem.
During adolescence, it is more friends that young people use as a point of reference for their self-image. Such comparisons can be based on distortions of the truth, especially in the age of social media. According to Cynthia Graton, a psychoeducator specializing in youth at the l’Institut Philippe-Pinel in Montreal, most young people are hooked on “likes”.
“They’re using social media to get external validation. As parents, our role is to bring them back to themselves, to the intrinsic qualities that make them special.”
She emphasizes that to help teens recognize their own worth, we must first look at ourselves as adults. Do we use appropriate language when talking about ourselves in front of them? We can’t ask teens to accept their weaknesses and flaws if we can’t accept our own. It’s something that we should work on first, in order to better teach it to our teenagers.
The sooner we react to signs of low self-esteem, the better the chances of our teens having positive things to say about themselves, thereby reinforcing their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Helping them see themselves in a positive light
“We all want to be good parents. From early childhood, we tend to compliment our children on their actions. Once they reach adolescence, it’s normal for them to look for validation from others.”
To help boost their self-esteem, Cynthia Graton suggests turning our compliments into questions to stimulate our teen’s positive internal dialogue.
For example, instead of saying: Congrats, you did great on your exam!
You could say:
- Are you happy with your grade?
- What did you think you did well?
- What could you work on?
Another one of our roles as parents is to observe the contexts in which our teen has low self-esteem. For example, do they tend to criticize their appearance throughout the day or does it tend to happen specifically after they spend hours on TikTok or Instagram? It’s important to put things into perspective and to provide our teens with the real information.
In this case, you could suggest that your teen watches The Social Dilemma, which breaks down how social media and its algorithms work. You can also remind your teen that Instagram is known for its abundant use of filters that modify appearance.
Other ideas to help boost their self-esteem:
- As a family, have fun writing down your qualities, strengths and what makes you unique;
- Focus on the efforts made rather than the results;
- Encourage teens to step out of their comfort zone so they can get to know themselves better and face their fears.
Cynthia Graton reminds us that it’s normal for teens to get a little down on themselves every now and then. Adolescence is a big adjustment! Being there for them and giving them lots of love can make all the difference on those more challenging days.
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