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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

May 02, 2023, Rosie Hodges, PsyD ,
9 tips to help teens build healthy self-esteem
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Being a teen is hard. They’re faced with the pressures of school, plans following graduation, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, responsibilities at home and maintaining a healthy social life. These years also are full of questions about identity, belonging and challenges with confidence. Finally, the ever-present use of social media further complicates teen lives. Although a great way of connecting with others, these platforms suggest increased self-scrutiny and peer comparison. In fact, a 2019 study found that teens who spend greater than three hours a day on their smartphones were at increased risk for mental health concerns, specifically internalizing symptoms.

Following are recommendations to help teens build self-esteem:

1. The basics

Adults can’t perform our best if basic needs aren’t met. Teens are no different. These needs include adequate sleep, well-balanced meals and snacks to fuel their brains and bodies, plenty of water to stay hydrated and physical activity of any form to relieve tension and boost energy. Parents can help set the stage by modeling these healthy habits and encouraging their teens to do the same.

2. Open the conversation

Sometimes teens aren’t looking for parents to jump in and problem-solve. Instead, they’re seeking a safe space to talk these issues over without fear of judgment or invalidation. This skill is known as active listening. It involves parents giving your teen your complete attention, showing you’re listening through verbal and nonverbal cues, and approaching the conversation with an open mind.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

As adults, it often seems like our teen years were a lifetime ago. This can make it difficult to remember our struggles at that age. When your teen comes to you with a problem, take a moment to look at the issue from their point of view. Practicing empathy not only strengthens the connection between you and your teen, but it also shows you’re willing to share in their emotional experience.

4. Monitor criticism

Words have power. Despite what adults may think, teens are listening. It’s important to be mindful of the language we use in our everyday conversations. This also includes how we talk about ourselves in front of them. If we focus on perceived faults, we overlook strengths. Over time, this can erode one’s confidence and feelings of acceptance. Thus, reframing the negative to positive can make a crucial difference in building a teen’s self-esteem.

5. Identify values

It often feels overwhelming and confusing for teens to figure out who they are. An exercise to help them navigate this process is to determine core values. Better understanding the principles and morals they wish to embody will influence their decision-making and behaviors. Possible examples may include generosity, creativity, compassion, healthy relationships with others, knowledge, etc. Ask your teen to describe a person they admire. Ask them, “When do you feel best about yourself?” “What inspires you?”

6. Encourage hobbies and other activities

Working with teens to establish activities or hobbies they enjoy – such as sports, music, art or after-school clubs – is a wonderful way to increase independence and feel a sense of accomplishment.

A word of caution: Teens may identify computer activities as hobbies they enjoy, but it’s important to build a wealth of hobbies outside of video games, surfing the web, etc.

7. Celebrate effort

Even when we try our hardest, sometimes we don’t achieve the desired result. As such, it is key to focus more on the teen’s efforts and less on the outcomes. Perhaps share a time when you strove for a certain goal but fell short. How did you cope and eventually recover?

8. Teach media literacy

Given the double-edged nature of the Internet, it’s vital teens learn how to use critical thinking skills when navigating sites and social media platforms. This may include how to address cyberbullying, perspective taking and deciphering the nuances of advertising and influencer culture. Teens can learn other key skills, such as how to identify problems with other’s digital behavior. The Digital Wellness Lab is a great resource for parents and teens to learn more tips.

9. Hold them accountable and responsible

Entrusting your teens with certain tasks fosters a sense of accomplishment, independence and mastery. You can establish home chores, set reasonable expectations and rules, follow through with consequences when rules are violated, etc. Recognize when teens show responsibility and consider ways for your teen to gain further independence.

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