How to Build Self-Esteem in Children and Teens

How to Build Self-Esteem in Children and Teens

Understanding our own self-esteem can have practical significance. But what exactly is self-esteem? Self-esteem is an individual’s overall sense of personal value and self-worth or simply, the measure of how much we like ourselves. Psychologist, Carl Jung acknowledged that a vital part of what contributes to self-esteem is early experiences, which supports the important role that parents play in the development of positive intrinsic sense of self. Today, children and teens are at higher risk for developing identity crisis, confusion, and self-esteem problems more than ever.

Factors that negatively influence self-esteem include:

Peers, bullying, constant negative feedback, social economic status, immigrant parents who do not speak the local language, parents with substance use problems or severe mental illness, and pressure from social media. Research also found a strong correlation between low self-esteem and puberty due to changes such as acne, vocal pitch, and weight changes contributing to poor self-acceptance or self-love. (Schaffhuser, Kathrin; Allemand, Mathias; and Schwarz, Beate, 2017).

Low self-esteem can lead to:
• Giving in to peer pressure
• Joining a gang
• Poor academic performance
• Drugs and alcohol abuse
• Trouble with the law
• Promiscuity
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Eating disorder

Challenges
In a fast-paced world, the daily demands of life can pull parents in all different directions, requiring time and energy they often don’t have. When these demands grow out of control, they may lead to stress leaving parents to be emotionally unavailable and exhausted. To raise confident and psychologically healthy children/teens, parents must be present physically and emotionally. Once a person has developed a positive self-concept, that person is likely to exhibit behaviors that are consistent with that self-concept (Osborne, Randall E., Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health, 2021).

Tips for parents/care takers

Availability. It is important for parents to have an open-door policy. If parents are unavailable, children will find someone who will listen and they may not be an ideal role model. Access to parents can boost self-esteem and set the stage for a healthy transition into adulthood.

Accept imperfection. Remember that you were once a kid. Instead of scolding or criticizing, try to validate their feelings while lifting them up. This way they won’t feel so alone.

Give appropriate and timely feedback. A great way to help build positive self-esteem is by giving positive feedback when warranted. Positive and loving messages can penetrate layers of negative view of self and can be a great catalyst to building positive self-esteem.

Instill positive values early. Having clear and defined values early in life help with self-identity and can strengthen self-esteem. If you wait until your child becomes a teenager to start having those conversations it can be more difficult.

Model behavior. Children observe and learn from their parents every day, whether we like it or not. Because children copy how their parents react to situations, it is important that parents also develop and implement positive strategies to deal with stressful experiences

Lower the pressure. Do not try to live vicariously through your children. This level of pressure can fragment self-esteem. Allow your child/teen to choose the kind of activities they desire to engage in, which can help with increased pride, confidence, self-respect, and trust.

Create intermittent social media detox. The media may portray unrealistic images or messages that can be detrimental to self-evaluation. Encourage time away for reflection and to strengthen self-esteem. Help your child understand that media content is often highly edited and filtered to show perfection.

Tips for children/teens

Practice self-compassion. The best thing you can do for yourself is to practice self-compassion: treating yourself with kindness and fairness. Have an attitude of self-acceptance, being nonjudgmental and free of criticisms.

Be discerning. Have positive relationships. If someone does not respect you or your boundaries, they don’t deserve your time. Always treat yourself with respect and walk away from toxic relationships.

Be yourself. Be open about who you are and your identity. However, understand that you are still developing, so do not be in a rush to assign yourself an identifier or label.

Self-esteem is changeable. It’s never too late to develop a positive sense of self. Self-esteem can be affected by personal and professional disappointments as adults. Understanding that life is not always linear and accepting setbacks as part of the journey is an important message to pass on early. However, instilling positive self-esteem can be a delicate balance. Parents must be careful to not raise children who become consumed by perfection and are over confident to the point of arrogance.

About the Author

Phara L. Morame, LCSW, MCAP, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in social work, and is a Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional. She is part of Healthcare Network’s integrated behavioral and mental health team and is fluent in Haitian Creole, French, and English. Celebrating 45 years of care, Healthcare Network is committed to providing healthcare to all, regardless of income or insurance status, visit healthcareswfl.org or call 239-658-3000.

May 16, 2022 | behavioral health, Children's Care

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