Low self esteem became a pop culture phenomenon in the mid-eighties, and since then has carried a low impact response when in fact low self esteem is a very serious issue facing the majority of today’s teenagers.
Having a teenager with a low self esteem does not mean that you are not a good parent or that you did the wrong things when they were little. Every parent makes mistakes and every child misinterprets information. Low self esteem can come from various sources, including some that are outside the home.
When a teenagers struggles with issues such as poor grades, social awkwardness, the loss of friends during transition, or adjustment to change, they can often question themselves and their self worth. Being teenagers, they tend to be more observant of the comments that people are making and they use these comment to determine their worth in the world. Of course they are naturally looking for specific things to be said and instead of asking the question they hope to have these answers provided for them. Without direct communication teenagers often misinterpret the communication around them.
It’s not often that we ask our teenagers the level of their self esteem. It’s typically not dinner conversation. However if we are paying attention we can notice when their self esteem level is drifting, or plummeting, downward. Teenagers will often reference themselves as stupid, fat, ugly, or incompetent. These are glaring red flags that are screaming out “My self esteem is low!”
There are less obvious signs such as commenting how “it doesn’t matter anyway,” when referencing themselves or their thoughts or feelings or noting that “it’s not like it makes a difference” when noting the affect their behavior has on the world. Sometimes a teenager who is suddenly remarkably helpful or trying with great determination to please everyone around them is actually suffering from a low self esteem.
These behaviors should not be ignored. A poor self esteem can lead to poor performance which can cycle the negative feelings about themselves. Over time they can develop a defeatist attitude that can lead to depression. Some teenagers are quite willing to talk about how they really feel. They have simply been waiting for someone to ask. Others aren’t quite so eager to lay it out there and need to be re-approached in order to discover what has them feeling so bad about themselves.
It’s not unusual for a teenager to not really understand why they have been feeling the way they do. For some they have grown used to it, having had these feeling for longer than even they realize. Others just aren’t able to articulate it. They are not purposefully trying to be evasive or frustrating, they honestly don’t know what’s going on with them.
While hormonal functions do play a role in a teenager’s emotions, it’s not really helpful to simply chalk it up to puberty and the onset of strong hormones. Their emotions are legitimate and real, and teaching them to ignore it will only compound the problem. It is reasonable that the intensity of their emotions may be triggered by hormonal issues, but certainly not the only cause.
When dealing with an individual’s self esteem, it is important to be sincere when dishing out the compliments and the positive reinforcement. If your teenager gets the feeling that you are just trying to make them feel better, your efforts will be in vain.
Self esteem problems can be temporary and somewhat short lived, or they can often be deep rooted and be a lifelong battle. Either way it is always advisable to seek out counseling for your teenager. Taking your child to counseling doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with him or that he has a disorder. It simply offers them the opportunity to talk about things that maybe they aren’t comfortable talking to a parent about. While teens typical turn to their friends for help and assistance in dealing with life’s issues, this is one issue that really should involve a sensible adult.
Keep your child talking. Being interested in what they have to say is a good start in letting them know that their thoughts and feelings are valuable. Listen to their thoughts reflectively and offer them feedback. You may not always agree with what they have to say, but they don’t agree with everything that you have to say, either.
Getting your teenager involved in a worthwhile activity can be a good complimentary service to counseling and talking. Sometimes being able to see the impact they really do have on the world around them can make a difference. Get them interested in volunteering for a cause. They may very well learn that while your actions don’t always cause an immediate effect, the effect they do carry can be quite rewarding.
Just like every other parenting issue, take it one day at a time and one issue at a time. Raising strong and solidly grounded teenagers is not an easy task although it can be done. Walk with him and he will know that if nothing else, he matters to you.
Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying
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