Teenagers are growing up in probably the most difficult period in living memory. Self harm, mental health problems and eating disorders are rife, and social media is a problem-riddled jungle.
May is National Teen Self Esteem Month, a campaign aimed at creating awareness of our teenagers’ confidence and well being.
Why is self esteem such a problem for teens?
On top of the physical, hormonal and mental changes going on for teens, they must also contend with increased educational expectations and navigate changing social dynamics.
Social media and the web portray unrealistic standards for teens to aspire to. Body image problems are widespread amongst youth, and many feel under great pressure.
Teenagers are often fragile and seemingly small bumps to their self esteem can often cause great damage.
How can I help, as a parent?
Thankfully there are a number of ways to encourage confidence in your teenager.
A positive foundation for growing confidence is to encourage your teen to find their identity. A great way to do so is by trying out a number of clubs, activities, hobbies and interests. Doing this enables kids to find what they’re interested in, what they like to do, what they’re good at and who they are.
Trying out activities is also a great way to make like-minded friends. Plus, when accomplishing a new challenge, they receive a feeling of achievement and their confidence is boosted.
Look to role models
A great way to inspire strength and resilience in our youth is to encourage them to find a role model. It could be someone from history, someone who overcame the odds, someone who campaigned for change or made music or art.
Acquainting children with the stories of those who achieved great things can give them a sense of hope during difficult times, and inspire them to conquer challenges.
Without direction and things they’d like to achieve, kids can feel lost. Help them to set goals by looking at their interests and taking steps to hit their targets. Perhaps they’d like to learn to play a musical instrument, or try out a new sport. They could also look at new hobbies such as crafts or baking. Even the smallest thing can be achievement, and it is beneficial for them to fill their lives with positive pursuits outside of school.
Building body confidence
Both girls and boys can feel hit by the negative effects of social media, adverts and constant images of ‘perfect’ people online.
A great way to counteract being overwhelmed by low self esteem in this area is by having regular family discussions about the images they see and the reality behind them. Some possible areas for chat could include:
- the constant use of photoshop/ filters in use on Instagram and advertisements
- how many celebrities have extensive plastic surgery to look a certain way
- how people on Instagram and tv look incredibly different without a hair and makeup teams, designer clothes etc
- whether true happiness in life is associated with being thin/ attractive, or if it actually comes from family, friends and experiences.
Encouraging teens to express themselves can really help boost their self confidence. Not only should they feel they can assert themselves around others, but also have healthy boundaries. It can help to talk to your teen about how things are with their friends/ significant others, and suggest how they can overcome issues or make their feelings heard.
Teens can also learn to express themselves creatively. They could try photography, art, making music, or writing to further their creativity and find their voice.
We can all be guilty of beating ourselves up for things at times. It’s important, however, to try and model self-forgiveness and understanding for our kids. The teenage years can be some of the most nerve-wracking years of our lives, and therefore it’s important for teens to know how to be kind to themselves and let things go.
A commonly-used theme in mental health care is self-compassion. Self-compassion means showing yourself the same kindness and forgiveness that you’d give a friend or family member. For example, your child may be being hard on themselves for failing a test or finding a club activity tricky. It can be helpful to teach them that they can treat themselves the same way as they would a close friend; by being reassuring, kind and forgiving.
It can also be helpful during tough times to remind them of all the things they’ve overcome, achieved, or times when they were a good person to others. Keeping a list of those things can help them feel better about themselves when times are tough.
By showing your children that you love them the same regardless of test results and academic achievement, it helps them feel reassured that they are enough.
Praise the little things
Congratulate your teen’s little accomplishments, which could be anything from helping a friend, making an effort to learn something, or showing perseverance.
As well as benefitting other people, helping others makes us feel good. Perhaps your child could undertake a sponsored event, help out at a soup kitchen or assist an elderly neighbour- anything that helps others and in turn makes them feel valued and important.
Be a family that doesn’t give up
If something doesn’t work out at first, try, try again! Modelling perseverance and effort shows your teen that they can accomplish great things if they keep trying. Supporting your child in their hopes and dreams can help them find their way, and by knowing you’ll always be there as their loudest cheerleader, you’re giving them a huge boost in confidence for their future.