Self-Esteem for Teens: Why It Matters, and How You Can Help
What is self-esteem?
Like many things, self-esteem exists on a spectrum that ranges from low self-esteem on one end, high self-esteemon the opposite end, and healthy self-esteem between the two.
- Someone with low self-esteem may feel inferior to others and value other people’s opinions over their own.
- Someone with high self-esteem may feel superior to others and tend to overlook their flaws.
- Someone with a healthy self-esteem has a balanced and accurate view of themselves and recognizes and accepts their flaws as well as their abilities.
Why does self-esteem matter?
Self-esteem is important because it drives people’s decision-making and choices in caring for themselves. Someone with healthy self-esteem feels good both about themselves and life in general. Alternatively, someone with low self-esteem sees themselves and life in a critical, usually negative way, which contributes to feeling unable to accept the various challenges life can throw at us.
Self-esteem is also essential because it is linked to positive psychological and physical health outcomes. Self-esteem is acknowledged as “one of the key variables that influence depression and well-being.”
It’s important to note that low self-esteem can make it harder for a survivor to leave an abusive partner. They may not believe they deserve any better than the abuse because they see themselves in such a negative light. Low self-esteem can also be something a survivor struggles with even after leaving a partner who chose to cause harm.
Why does self-esteem matter for teenagers?
Self-esteem is especially important in conversations about teenager and youth well-being because the self-esteem patterns they both witness in others and practice for themselves create the foundation for their future self-esteem as adults.
Additionally, having healthy self-esteem helps you know your worth and understand that you deserve a healthy relationship where you are treated with respect, honesty, and care.
How can we improve teen self-esteem this month and all year long?
There are several actions people can do to raise self-esteem in teenagers and young adults, both during National Month for Teen Self-Esteem and all year long. Parents are particularly critical in this effort because “the most important influences on young people’s levels of self-esteem are their parents. This is partly due to genetic inheritance and partly through the degree of love, concern, acceptance, and interest that they show their children.”
Teenagers, young adults, and those who care about them (e.g., parents, coaches, youth pastors) should know they can raise their self-esteem with some simple actions such as:
- Speak kindly to yourself. When you listen to your internal thoughts, are you mean to yourself? Are you overly critical and underly supportive? Try tracking your thoughts by writing them down for a few days, and then check in with what you’ve written. Would you say any of those things to a good friend of yours? If not, try to rewrite them in a fair, kind, and true way. Repeat these new phrases to yourself often. You can even write them on a sticky note and place them somewhere you will see them daily.
- Focus on what’s going well and not on what’s going wrong. It’s easy to feel stuck in negativity when all we think about are the “mistakes” we’ve made. Instead of spending mental energy thinking about what didn’t go well and spiraling into “I’m not good enough,” disrupt that line of thinking by focusing on one thing that went well.
- Accept that perfection is unrealistic and that your best is good enough. Striving for perfection can create the illusion that anything short of perfection is a failure. Flip this narrative by focusing on your progress instead of your perfect ideal.
- Create goals and make progress towards them. Feeling good is a result of doing good things for you. Decide on something that will make you feel good – for example, learning a new TikTok dance or reading a stack of books by your favorite author. Set a goal, then plan how you will do it. Track the progress you make and give yourself kudos for what you’ve accomplished so far. “I’ve been reading 30 minutes daily and just finished the first book in the series. I know I can do this!”
- Spend time with people who uplift you and make you feel better about yourself. This includes romantic partners as well as friendships!
- Offer your time to help others in your community. Giving is a powerful way to cultivate self-esteem. Make kindness a habit you practice in your home, school, or community. Whether volunteering to take a younger sibling to the park while a parent has a Zoom call for work or volunteering for an organization you feel passionate about, creating positive change in your world makes self-esteem blossom.
Where can I find resources for building self-esteem in teenagers and young adults?
Here are more suggestions on how to boost self-esteem in teenagers and young adults: