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Weathering the Teen Years: How to Boost Your Teen’s Self Esteem

As your teen ventures into an active social and academic life, it may seem like it’s all fun and games. In reality, your teen is faced with daily pressures and unique stresses that many parents don’t realize. Beyond balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and peer pressure, it’s likely your teen’s self esteem is struggling to stay afloat.

Even though it may seem that you are the last person your teen wants to communicate with, your interactions and support can be just what he or she needs to safeguard his or her self-image and boost self esteem.

Understanding Teens

The teenage years are delicate, to say the least. Hormones are activated, peer pressure can be harsh and the need to look good and be popular is even more important during these years, says Dr. Judy Rosenberg, Los Angeles-based psychologist. During this stage, they are often rebels with or without a cause, she says.

Self image is a priority for teens and navigating pressures and boundaries can be a challenge.

The key to getting through to your teen is to understand that developmentally, teens can be ego-centric and believe that everything revolves around them, says Erena DiGonis, licensed psychotherapist and certified health coach. “Teen girls are more likely to internalize any negative feedback and make it about them,” she says. “The teens that I work with are pre-occupied with what other girls have, how they look and how they carry themselves.”

Unfortunately, nothing good comes from the “compare and despair” mentality, says DiGonis. “The good news is that confidence is learned and building positive self-esteem is a process that takes a little time and some patience.”

Helping Your Teen

The first step in helping teens to develop strong self-esteem is unconditional love, says DiGonis. “Statements that detach from the outcome and focus on the effort or process are valuable,” she says. Phrases such as “I know how hard you worked on your report” and “I am so proud of you no matter what” instill a sense of accomplishment even if the outcome for your teen is not favorable.

You don’t always have to agree, but you can make supportive and validating comments, says DiGonis. Phrases such as “I hear you. It sounds like you are really struggling, so how can we get through this together right now?” may help diffuse your teen’s negative self talk and boost her self-esteem, knowing that she has you on her side.

Creating positive and healthy routines can also help boost your teen’s self esteem. “Get teens involved in these routines, such as going to the supermarket and picking out nutritious snacks,” says DiGonis. “Learn about better choices together as a family and set an example with a positive outlook.”

It helps to identify what makes your teen feel excited about life and build self esteem from the inside out, says Sherri Ziff, mother of two teens and Los Angeles-based life coach for Rock Your Life Coaching. “It’s about identifying your teen’s values and helping him or her live from those values everyday,” she says. “It’s about acknowledging your teen when you see him bring forward those values.”

Be genuine, too. Teens can see right through artificial and gratuitous compliments, trophies and awards, says Ziff. “It seems to me that as a society, we’ve just gone crazy with trying to build self esteem by giving kids stuff they haven’t earned and it has back fired,” she says.

Avoid judging, criticizing or blaming your teen, recommends Rosenberg. “This will call up defense mechanisms and you will have a hard time getting through and delivering communication,” she says. Rosenberg recommends straying from ego destroying phrases such as “You did this or that wrong” that can further deplete a teen’s self esteem.

“Never demean or in any way criticize your child by name calling,” says Rosenberg. “Stick with inspirational language that is always respectful and honest and calls on them to self correct and stay on course.”

Primarily, it is important for teens to feel loved, safe and appreciated, says DiGonis. “Focus on their strengths and help them with areas that they can do better,” she says.


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