Talking to Your Teen About Self-Esteem

self-esteem Sep 08, 2020

Most parents try to combat teenage insecurities by telling their children that they are lovable and perfect just the way they are. This doesn't work. The truth is that we all have to earn our own self-worth, and parents need to teach children the skills to do this.

When our teenagers feel awkward, we tell them that who they are is enough. We tell them that they should love themselves exactly as they are. We tell them they are perfect.

And, yet, they don’t believe us. They feel like outcasts. They worry that they are not enough. They wonder what is wrong that they do not love themselves. They even feel guilty for not loving themselves.

And here is why: The truth is that we all have to earn our own self-worth. If your teenagers want to feel worthy and lovable, they have to believe that they are living up to their own standards of worthiness and lovability. They have to earn their own love. Believing that they should love themselves is not enough. They must decide what criteria they will use to judge they worthiness, and then they must find evidence that they are truly worthy by participating in self-validating activities and behavior.

Think of a child like a blank canvas. If they have nothing to be proud of, that canvas remains empty. To feel pride and esteem, children must earn their own self-respect by painting themselves with their values.

So instead of telling your children that they should love themselves, teach them how to build self-worth.  

Tell them this:

“Do not simply sit around believing that you are enough: Go out and behave in such a way that you collect more and more evidence that you are worthy.

“This begins by identifying what you value. Once you know what matters to you, you can choose activities that allow you to prove to yourself that you live by your values.

“If you value kindness, be a good friend. If you value compassion, volunteer on a nonprofit. If you value fitness, go out there and swim, play soccer, play baseball, go for runs. If you value intelligence, read books. If you value laughter, learn how to tell jokes.

“Bottom line: Spend time doing things that are interesting, enjoyable, and that align with your values. Do things that make you believe you are worthy. Build your own self-worth by being what you want to be.”

The truth is this: If your teenagers follow their heart, listen to their values, and engage in activities that feel good to them, they will feel good about themselves.

This holds true for everyone, teenagers and adults alike.

Yet, it is particularly true of teens. Teens are facing peer pressure; their parents, teachers, and coaches expect them to behave in certain ways; they are going through puberty;  being offered drugs and alcohol; wondering about sex. Teens are up against a lot.

As parents, then, we can help our teens build their own self-worth by helping them identify their values and protecting time so that they can pursue activities that make them feel good. We can help them by making sure that we are not shoving our own values down their throats, but rather creating a safe space for our children to show us who they are and what they value, independent of our own egos or desires.

And then we can remind them, time and time again, that what we do determines how we feel. When we do things that make us feel good, we are confident.

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