Self-esteem is a concept that describes how a person thinks and feels about themselves. Teenagers have a particular challenge when it comes to self-image, as they become self-conscious and questioning as part of their developmental process. However, adolescence does not have to be a time of suffering. With the right foundations, teens can approach life believing he or she is a good person who deserves love and support and can succeed in life.
Young people with high self esteem:
- Have a positive image of themselves
- Feel confident
- Make friends easily and are not anxious with new people
- Have different friendship groups
- Will try and solve problems on their own, but are able to ask for help
- Can feel proud of their achievements
- Can admit mistakes and learn from them
- Will try new things and adapt to change
Young people with low self-esteem:
- Have a negative image of themselves and may express that they feel “bad”, “ugly”, “unlikeable” or “stupid”
- Lack confidence (avoid eye contact, hide in clothing)
- Find it hard to make and keep friendships, and may feel victimised by others
- Tend to avoid new things and find change hard (withdrawal, isolation)
- Can’t deal well with failure (make excuses, blame others)
- Tend to put themselves down and make negative self statements such as “I’m stupid” or “I can’t do that”
- Have difficulty feeling proud of what they achieve. They discount the positive and focus on the negative (think they could have done better, or say it doesn’t count somehow)
- Are constantly comparing themselves to their peers in a negative way
Most children will have dips in self-esteem as they go through different stages or challenges in life. Normal stresses like going to a new school, moving, family changes, loss, and other factors can affect a child’s confidence temporarily. With adequate support from parents and other adults they usually get through this.
However, some children seem to have low self-esteem from an early age. They may have had difficulties in their early years due to health problems, family difficulties or having a parent who was struggling.
Other children develop low self-esteem following a difficult time such as divorce, bereavement, trauma or social stress, and need extra help to cope.
Teenagers with low self-esteem can find it very hard to cope with daily pressures from school, with peers and in general. They can find it very stressful and can have skewed expectations of what they are to achieve, look like or be.
Research shows adolescents with low self-esteem are more at risk of developing depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviours and other mental health problems as they develop, and that adult like will be harder to cope with.
TIP: To help your adolescent with self-esteem, stay connected. Talk with them, and if they won’t talk, do something with them they like to do (or used to). Do what you can to get the relationship on a positive, nurturing track. If that means getting help for yourself, do it!