Updated: Oct 13
This coming week I will be starting a “Girl Talk” workshop called Mental Fitness Club for Girls, where I use skills and techniques that are part of my KARMA Coaching Method to help and empower young girls. I’m so excited about this workshop and helping young girls and boys (their workshop will be next) develop self-esteem and self-worth at such an important age. Today’s blog is on the topic of building self-esteem in your teen.
May 13, 1990
Today is one of the most important days in my life. Today I finally got my period! Not that dealing with it is such a great pleasure, but just knowing that I have it and my body is functioning again was a great thing. The other thing that happened today, which is not as great, was that my parents’ divorce was finalized.
I kissed Peter, a 35 years old guy who visited a family at the kibbutz, and the thought of him makes me very happy. We love being together and he is very kind to me. Since I am only 15.5 years old, I keep our relationship a secret.
That night I couldn’t fall asleep. I had too many thoughts in my head and I was restless. I kept thinking about Peter and his last words to me: “You are a young and beautiful girl with great potential.” Well, I was thinking to myself, there is a man who knows how to get to the heart of a young and innocent child. How wonderful! I like the fact that he thought I had great potential, especially because nobody else did! OK, enough boy drama for now. I have to go to sleep so that I can function tomorrow.
Peter was an important figure in my adolescence because he was the first person to believe in me. Three years later, I found that he was actually 45 years old, but this is a whole other story for another day...As a young child, I was scolded more than I was praised, and most of the time there was no adult supervision. Therefore, the self-esteem that I did develop came mostly from teachers and people in the education world.
In middle school and high school, I was bullied for being associated with the group of poor kids from the city who came from dysfunctional families. My self-esteem was further shuttered during the most important years of my life.
The truth is, I never thought about how much responsibility we carry as parents and adults in helping build your child’s self-esteem until I had my own girls.
So where does self-esteem come from?
The simple answer is that anything and anyone who we surround ourselves with can build our self-esteem. When people around us focus on the things that are good about us and what is positive, then we learn to think in positive ways and see ourselves in a positive light. If the opposite is true, then you are more likely to feel bad about yourself and maybe even your surroundings.
Whole life experiences can build or destroy one’s self-esteem, but the good news is that with awareness (an important component of KARMA), basic skills, and lots of practice of course, you can build up self-esteem. I had very low self-esteem the entire time I struggled with an eating disorder. Overcoming this, and learning how to cultivate self-esteem in myself, were vital steps on my road to recovery.
What is self-esteem and how can you help your teen, yourself, or anyone to build it? Having self-esteem involves feeling good about yourself and who you are. There are four components:
Self-Confidence: This is a basic feeling of security that comes from our family and the people we surround ourselves with. It’s a state of mind that comes from having our basic needs met. When you have self-confidence, you don’t fear trying new things.
Identity: This has to do with knowing who you are as a person. It’s your own understanding of yourself as a person, from your physical attributes to your social circle to your sexual preferences to your economic status. Identity develops from experimentation, feedback from others, and experiences we have as we grow and mature.
Feeling of Belonging: As humans, we belong to several different groups. These include our families, our friend groups, our sports teams or social clubs, our schools, our churches, and our workplaces. Our feeling of belonging to these groups contributes to our understanding of ourselves. There is a feeling of solidarity in connecting with others over shared interests, similar experiences, and frequent communication.
Feeling of Competence: One doesn’t develop a feeling of competence overnight. It’s a gradual state that comes from trying new things and learning how to succeed and fail. As humans, we are motivated by success and so the more we find things that we succeed at, the more we are driven to take on new challenges and experiences, knowing we have the capacity to handle them.
Self-esteem is a fluid concept. The more we experience and learn about ourselves, the more our self-esteem develops. The people we surround ourselves with and the types of communities we belong to undeniably help shape our self-esteem. Below are some ways you can help grow your teen’s self-esteem.
Tip 1: Help your child identify their self-worth.
I highly recommend watching this video on self-worth. Oftentimes, teens struggle with procrastination, and this video does an excellent job of explaining that it’s frequently tied to a fear of failure and not simply laziness. This is a huge part of awareness. Perhaps you can’t get your teen to watch this whole video, but if you can help them understand the concept of self-worth—and that it’s not tied simply to succeeding at a task—it will go a long way in building their self-esteem. The next time you’re tempted to call out your teen for procrastinating on their homework or seemingly not working hard on something, take a step back and find a way to boost their confidence in the task at hand.
Tip 2: Encourage your child to do one thing that scares them every day.
You may have heard this before. This doesn’t mean they need to do something risky or bad for them (something that scares you!), but encourage them to step out of their comfort zones. If your teen knows that it’s ok to try things that scare them—that you won’t love them any less if they fail—they will grow their own feelings of competency and identity.
Tip 3: Model self-talk.
Self-talk is a strategy I often use with my clients and it’s perfect for building your own self-esteem. Your teens will look to you as an example, whether they are aware of it or not. The next time you don’t get a promotion or you make a mistake, try telling yourself, “I did the best I could.” Say it out loud and instill this skill in your child. You can reframe failures with self-talk. Model being kind to yourself and your teens will pick up on it.
Tip 4: Question the inner critics.
We all have that little inner critic inside our heads. You know the saying, “You’re your own worst critic.” Is your child doing the same? Look for signs that your teen is being critical with themselves and change the conversation. Sometimes they need help from you to silence the inner voices in their head. Simple conversations with your teen will often reveal evidence of how harsh they are being on themselves. Look for signs of their inner critic and call it out.
Tip 5: Affirm them.
As adults, it’s important to affirm ourselves. In order to have high self-esteem, we have to be able to recognize our own value. As parents, it’s our job to affirm our kids and build them up. Don’t assume they know what you’re thinking. Tell your teen you are proud of them. Compliment their efforts. Acknowledge how hard they work on something that is challenging. These aren’t just words—they become part of your child’s feelings of competence, belonging, identity, and self-confidence.
Awareness of self-esteem is not a simple concept and it’s something we have to work at perpetually. It’s also good to recognize that your teen is affected by and exposed to an entire society outside of the family, and often their social circle can tear down their self-esteem no matter how much you try to build it up. Sometimes it takes a trained professional to help a struggling teen work through their struggles with self-esteem—I did not get here on my own! If you’re looking for help, it can never hurt to reach out.
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With much love,