When self-esteem stays low, it can interfere with the activities of daily life and cause other problems. For many teens, professional counseling can be an important step. If you are considering virtual therapy options to help your child build self-esteem and navigate other mental health issues, our list of the best online therapy providers is a great place to start.
What is low self-esteem?
Self-esteem encompasses the thoughts we have about ourselves and our emotional reactions to those beliefs. People with high self-esteem have a generally positive view of their value, while those with low self-esteem tend to have negative attitudes of self-worth, regardless of the opinions of others. Some signs of low self-esteem include:
Giving up easily
Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities
Making comments about a lack of self-worth
Changing behaviors based on peer influences
Avoiding people and situations that make them feel less worthy
Learn more about the signs of low self-esteem in this fact sheet from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
What is confidence?
Confidence is the perceived ability to complete a specific task or activity. Confidence varies based on the situation and environment. Self-esteem—the general opinion we have of ourselves—is not the same thing as confidence, but the two can feed on each other: feeling confident in completing a task can boost self-esteem, while failures (either real or imagined) can contribute to feelings of low self-worth.
Why does my teenager have low self-esteem?
There are many factors that can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem in the teen years. Some of these include:
Pressure from parents and caregivers
Abuse or trauma
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
Poor performance in school
In a study of self-esteem in more than 6500 teens, researchers found connections between obesity, sensation-seeking behavior, and high levels of daily television time with low self-esteem. Teens who had high academic performance and who participated in organized sports were less likely to have low self-esteem than those who didn’t. Sometimes low self-esteem occurs even in kids who seem successful to their parents and outsiders.
In many cases, it can be helpful to speak to a professional to help your teen discover the causes of their low self-esteem. TeenCounseling.com is a service designed to help parents find trusted licensed counselors for their children. All TeenCounseling therapists are specifically trained in working with adolescents.
What are the effects of low self-esteem?
Unfortunately, low self-esteem can lead to a vicious cycle, where feelings of low self-worth make a child feel less confident in many situations. They may begin to avoid people and situations where they feel inadequate.
Their lack of confidence can lead to difficulties in school and with friends. Some teens with low self-esteem develop destructive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse or promiscuous sexual activity. Extreme low self-esteem can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you believe your child is in danger of harming him or herself, you should seek help: call 911 immediately.
How can I help my teen improve their self-esteem and confidence?
All parents know that raising a teen can be a difficult balancing act: you want to give them courage and independence, while also keeping them safe and providing good advice. We can often feel helpless, especially if our children seem withdrawn or uninterested.
There are several useful strategies parents can adopt to build an environment that help teens grow confidence in their daily lives. Here are some ideas for promoting a healthy level of self-esteem.
1. Keep talking
It may seem that speaking with you is the last thing your teenager wants to do. However, taking the time to be together, listen to your child’s concerns, and share your own stories provides the loving framework needed to build and maintain self-esteem.
Keep the lines of communication open and take opportunities to share your own self-esteem struggles with your child. It may not always seem like they care to listen. But have faith that they are probably tuning in and internalizing your words in their own way.
2. Instill the importance of health
As adults, we know that mental and physical health are linked, but this connection is not always obvious to teenagers. If you set up the infrastructure for healthy habits at home, your teen has a better chance of seeing themselves in a more positive light. Providing healthy meals, encouraging regular physical activity, and allowing time for enough sleep are key to laying a healthy foundation at home.
3. Be a role model for building self-esteem
Our children notice what we do, and how we interact with the world. If you are in the habit of speaking negatively about yourself, this can teach your children to engage in their own negative self-talk.
If you don’t assert yourself in public, your teen may also refrain from speaking up. When you encounter difficulties in your own life, don’t be afraid to share your experiences with your child. Show them that you can be brave and model the process of using your own failures and mistakes to help you build confidence to overcome future challenges.
4. Encourage confidence based on effort and internal self-worth
Especially in the age of social media, it can take some effort to believe that self-worth comes from within, not from conforming to external ideals. Placing less of an emphasis on awards and superficial recognition—and more on effort and perseverance—will help your child see the value of grit and tenacity.
Noticing when your child works hard at something, and praising that effort, will go a long way in helping them build self-worth.
5. Encourage challenges
Trying new things can be difficult for anyone. For teens, it can be scary to change course when they’ve spent years pursuing a particular sport or hobby. Trying something new will help them learn to develop a feeling of mastery and build new confidence. The teenage years are the perfect time to pick up a new sport, skill, or hobby.
As a parent, you will need to acknowledge that new skills don’t come easily, but the learning process will be its own reward. Allow your child to make the time for a new club or class and support their efforts to overcome new obstacles on their own.
6. Set them free
Just as you learned from past mistakes, it’s imperative to let your children make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences—safely. It’s a balancing act, but necessary to building confidence. Sometimes there is a learning process for adults too, as we gradually learn to let go of the control we used to have over every facet of our young child’s life.
When your child faces a challenge, you may be tempted to jump in, micromanage, and make the “best” choices for them. But providing them with the freedom to make their own decisions can be a huge boost to their journey towards autonomy. Remember that learning from mistakes will provide your child with an opportunity to take responsibility and build resilience.
7. Teach them to change their self-talk
All of us tend to build habits with repetition. If we get into the habit of judging ourselves harshly, it becomes a pattern of negative self-talk that feeds into feelings of low self-worth. For teens, it can be difficult to see past the negative thoughts.
If your child shares negative statements about herself, help her see that talking to herself as a true friend can help build healthy self-worth. For more ideas on encouraging positive self-talk, check out this article about how to build self-esteem.
8. Provide helpful praise
It can be difficult to know how to balance praise with criticism when it comes to teens. When all we provide is positive feedback, it becomes meaningless. If all we do is criticize and find fault, we worry that we may be damaging our children’s psyche.
The more specific we can be about the praise we offer, the more meaningful it will be. Praising the effort that went into an accomplishment, rather than the reward that was received, will have lasting meaning. If guidance is needed, try to help your child develop their own attainable goals for improvement.
9. Limit screen time
It’s no secret that kids these days spend record amounts of time on their devices. In addition to limiting physical activity and other healthy activities, screen time can contribute to an overall sense of low self-worth in teens, especially with the proliferation of “ideal” images on social media.
In this study of more than 40,000 children, moderate to high use of screens (four or more hours per day) was associated with significantly lower measures of psychological wellbeing among 14-17 year olds.
It can be a challenge to pull teens away from their devices. But don’t give up: encouraging them to unplug will allow them to explore other methods of connecting with the world while taking a break from comparing themselves to others online.
10. Get professional help
If you are worried that your child’s lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and other struggles are getting in the way of their ability to thrive, it is time to seek help from a professional with experience in this area, whether in person or in a virtual setting.
If you are considering seeking help online, our list of the best online therapy providers is a great place to start. BetterHelp is a great option, with 30,000 licensed professional counselors, many of whom specialize in helping with self-esteem issues among teenagers.
Navigating the teen years has never been easy, and the added pressures of social media make it even more difficult for children to maintain a healthy level of self-esteem today. Very low self-esteem can lead to bigger mental health struggles down the line. Support your teen in his challenges, be present and supportive, and share your own struggles.
Keep in mind that there’s only so much you can do on your own. When low self-esteem is part of a larger mental health issue, it’s important to seek help from a professional. Building resilience and a strong sense of self-worth now will help your child face future challenges with strength and confidence.