Health & Fitness

Tips to help raise your teenager’s self-esteem

It’s no surprise that confident teens tend to be more successful in school, in their social circles, in extracurricular activities and later in life. But developing a healthy sense of self isn’t an easy task.

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Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S.

Today’s teenagers are confronted with a variety of tough issues, from their changing physical appearance — which is increasingly harder to navigate in today’s image-obsessed, smartphone snapping “selfie” world — to who they choose as friends, how they behave in public, how well they perform in sports and at school, and a whole lot more. So making sure you’re doing everything you can to help them build up their confidence is critical.

Get started by:

  • Being generous with praise. Often, especially with teens, we tend to focus on what they’re doing wrong (like leaving dirty dishes in sink or not making their bed) rather than spotlight what they’re doing right. Remembering to praise your child when warranted will remind them to feel proud of themselves.

  • Fostering decision-making and opinions. Let your teen know you want — and need — their advice. That means including them in everyday family decisions, from what to have for dinner to what kind of phone plan they think is best. Adolescents love nothing better than to be treated like grown-ups, and they’re usually flattered anytime you invite them into the adult world.

  • Establishing open communication. Make it very clear to your teen that they can discuss anything with you in a judgment-free zone; they’ll be more apt to talk to you honestly. Phrase questions in such a way that you’ll get more than a “yes” or “no” response. Instead of asking how math is going, ask what they’re currently studying. Remember, too, to communicate on their terms, which usually means texting. Quick messages like “good luck on a test” or an emoji can go a long way in letting your child know you’re always there for them.

  • Ensuring trust. Demonstrate to your teen (repeatedly) that you trust their judgment. They need to know you’re behind them 100 percent, and that you think they’re capable of making good, smart decisions.

  • Encouraging volunteer work. When kids perform community service, they receive positive feedback that makes them feel good about themselves. Bonus: Volunteering increases empathy and acceptance, two platinum-level personality traits.

  • Supporting their interests. Encourage your teen to follow their passion, be it sports, music, art, drama or a part-time job. By supporting their hobby (or hobbies), you’re helping them find positive ways to express themselves.

  • Setting boundaries. Establish firm rules and expectations that fit your family’s lifestyle and principles. This includes curfews, rules on cellphone usage and time spent video gaming, household chores and so on. Clear rules tell your teen that they are valued, and that’s one of the first building blocks of self-esteem.

  • Criticizing constructively. Saying teenagers can be sensitive is an understatement, so be careful of the language you use when relaying your opinions on what they wear, who they hang out with and how they’re performing at school. For example, instead of “How could you have gotten that answer wrong on your chemistry test?” say “You almost got the answer. With a little extra studying, I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

  • Gifting them with responsibility. Confidence comes from knowing you can handle whatever comes your way; give your teen that power. Teach them how to cook, do laundry, change an AC filter, mow the lawn. Household chores help prepare young people for the real world and give them faith in their abilities.

  • Modeling confidence. Teens learn most based on what you do, not what you say. If you role model with courage and confidence and demonstrate the importance of loving yourself, your teen will feel the same. It’s also helpful to discuss with them times when you’ve been brave or things you’ve done in your life to help build your own confidence.

  • Teaching assertiveness. Everyone should know how to speak up for themselves in an appropriate manner. Talk to your teen about the importance of asking questions, seeking help and advocating for themselves.

  • Balancing freedom with guidance. Micromanaging your teen’s choices sends a message that you don’t trust them, and that will negate all the goodwill you’re trying to build. Remember, as with most things, balance is key.

Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S. in guidance and counseling, oversees a wide range of parenting programs across the county. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.
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