How To Improve Self-Esteem For Teens

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated February 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Self-esteem generally refers to the way someone sees themselves. It can also be thought of as a person’s self-worth. Healthy self-esteem can be crucial for teens to achieve self-actualization and have good mental health. A few signs of low self-esteem in teens may include failing to make eye contact during conversation, putting others down, and generally feeling unworthy. Focusing on self-compassion, capitalizing on their strengths, and helping others may improve self-esteem in teens. Online therapy may be a helpful tool for parents of teens with low self-esteem, as it can guide them in how to best support their children as they work through this challenge.

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Learn How To Help Your Teen Develop Healthy Self-Esteem.

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is usually defined as a person’s self-worth, or how they see themselves. The way someone acts in any situation, whether that be during a test, a job interview, or a regular social interaction, can be closely linked to their self-esteem. 

According to social psychology expert Carl Rogers, self-esteem is often crucial to the development of a healthy personality and is usually highly influenced by childhood experiences.

Without being properly nurtured early on with positive feedback, a person may never develop the personality needed to achieve self-actualization. In other words, they may not be able to bring their self-image into alignment with who they’d like to be and what they’d like to do.

People with healthy self-esteem generally have high self-confidence and self-respect. They usually have a healthy sense of their own worth and feel confident they can handle any problem that comes their way. They’re frequently able to achieve self-actualization, going on to live meaningful lives full of healthy relationships and fulfilling experiences.

By contrast, people experiencing challenges with self-confidence tend to frequently engage in negative thoughts, dwell on past mistakes, and have low self-regard. They may be afraid to express their opinions and assume any endeavor they pursue will inevitably end in failure. They may also experience anxiety or stress in social situations, and they may be more likely to experience mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

The Importance Of Healthy Self-Esteem

Healthy self-esteem can be the key to living a fulfilling life. If someone has low confidence in themselves, they may feel easily discouraged and afraid of challenges. Those with low self-esteem may also distance themselves from loved ones, which could negatively impact their relationships and mental health.

A lack of confidence can be more urgent in adolescents. Between going to school and family life at home, teenagers may be susceptible to low self-esteem, especially depending on different environmental factors and the kind of parenting they receive. This lack of self-confidence can impact a person later in life and even into old age.

One of the aspects that can influence high confidence in one’s self-development in a young person is that person’s relationships. If you are around supportive people who give you positive feedback when you do something well, you may be more likely to have positive feelings regarding your own abilities later in life. This can be especially important in one’s teens and young adulthood, which is why a young person may need to be surrounded by supportive relationships with family, teachers, and other peers. There may be genetic factors contributing to levels of self-esteem as well.

However, not receiving positive feedback in one’s youth can lead people to develop poor self-esteem. Studies show this, in turn, can lead to a variety of issues later in life, from relationship problems to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.  

Signs Of Low Self-Esteem

There may be various signs of low self-esteem. Here are some indicators to watch out for to determine if you or a loved one could be experiencing low self-esteem:

  • Teens with low confidence may look away from the person they are talking to, especially adults.
  • Negative “I statements” can be one of the most common signs of a teen lacking confidence.
  • If a teen constantly puts others down, their negative critiques may be a way to combat their challenges with self-worth.
  • Those with low self-esteem may feel they are unworthy and unable to do anything correctly.

Along with these signs, if a teen is not their usual self, low self-confidence may be the problem. 

Tip #1: Focus On Self-Compassion

A common trait of teens having trouble with self-worth can be comparing themselves to other successful people. In observing how peers and adults they respect find success, a few questions may arise:

  • Am I good enough?
  • Do I deserve happiness?
  • Where do I stand with my peers?
  • Will I ever change?

Most people have considered these questions at least once during their lives. It is often more beneficial to exercise self-compassion than to dwell on these questions, which can lead to negativity.

People who actively try to treat themselves with compassion and self-love are generally more likely to have higher self-esteem. People practicing self-compassion often acknowledge that they are human beings. They may experience challenges just like everyone around them, but don’t let these challenges define them.

When someone accepts that they are not alone in their challenges, they may begin to treat themselves with the same kindness they would show to a friend. In the end, being better can mean learning from your mistakes, rather than feeling pressure to be perfect.

Avoid Social Comparison

Teens may compare themselves with other people because they want to match themselves to society’s expectations of a successful person. Teens typically believe there is an invisible audience constantly watching them and they need to perform exactly to the expectations of their audience.

This audience may come in the form of social media. If a teen posts something online, but it’s not getting the same engagement rates as someone they look up to, then they may feel inadequate. This situation can also apply to academic performance and athletic competition.

However, teens are typically better positioned to have a healthier life if they are kind to themselves. Instead of beating themselves up after failing, healthy teens may accept that they made a mistake and try to improve for the future.

Tip #2: Capitalize On Your Strengths

Practicing self-compassion may help teens capitalize on their strengths, which can help boost overall confidence. In fully focusing on your strengths, you may feel less frustrated over not excelling at everything.

For example, teens might feel discouraged if they are not athletic, but they see someone else getting medals for their physical abilities. But if a teen focuses on a single strength of their own, such as writing, they may find satisfaction in the craft and feel better about themselves.

iStock/Elena Perova

When trying to understand what your strengths are, you might ask the following questions to yourself or a loved one having difficulty with self-esteem:

  • What are your values and beliefs?
  • When do you feel the most excited about doing a particular hobby?
  • Who can you talk to when you want to feel better?

If you cannot think of any skills that you view as strengths, you might ask friends or family to help you determine what your strengths could be.

Confide In Your Support System

When you reach out to a loved one and explain your struggles, they may offer advice or kind words that can help you on the road to improving your self-esteem. It can also be just as important to have someone listen to you without having them lecture you about what you should do.

Parents trying to give their children the best life possible may eventually need to learn to trust that they can make decisions for themselves. Not only can it be important that you find someone to listen to you, but you may also wish to make sure that you trust yourself to make a positive change in your life.

Tip #3: Help Others

When you can treat yourself with kindness and trust that you can make the right decisions, you may become more willing and able to help others, even those who are not in your close family or friend group. 

In a 2017 study, researchers examined over 681 US adolescents’ helpful behavior over four years. They concluded that adolescents with kind and helpful dispositions generally reported higher self-esteem, but those who grew in self-esteem often did so after extending a helping hand toward strangers, not just friends and family.

Being kind to people you do not know can help you understand that you are not alone in the world. Furthermore, by exposing yourself to situations that are outside of your comfort zone, you can gain perspective on other people’s problems in life and even learn from them regarding how to overcome your issues. This can help you in feeling that you can tackle your own problems.

Finally, helping others may help you form new relationships with those people, which can then help you develop healthy self-esteem.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, suggested that “helping a stranger is more challenging than assisting a friend, and when teens take this risk, they feel more competent.”

People may feel more prone to criticize themselves for not excelling rather than forgiving and moving on as better people. Helping others may give you a chance to feel good about yourself and learn from the experience by practicing self-compassion and focusing on your strengths.

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Learn How To Help Your Teen Develop Healthy Self-Esteem.

Tip #4: Seek Professional Help

If you’re a parent of a teenager who is experiencing difficulty with self-esteem, you may find it helpful to work with a licensed therapist to identify ways you might guide them through this challenging time. Online therapy can make this simple by connecting you with a mental health professional from the comfort of your home at a time that fits your schedule. 

Although many question whether online therapy can be as effective as traditional in-office therapy, a growing body of research has suggested that it can be highly effective for a variety of mental health concerns and other issues. For instance, this study looked at an online program for cultivating self-compassion and found that participants reported significant increases in overall happiness and self-compassion.

Takeaway

Self-esteem, frequently viewed as a person’s self-worth or the way one views themselves, can play a large role in overall mental health. Healthy self-esteem in teens can promote self-actualization and well-being. Teenagers with low self-esteem may believe they are unworthy or not good enough. They may also put others down to help themselves feel better. It can be possible for teens to improve their self-esteem by focusing on their strengths, embracing self-compassion, and helping others. Parents of teenagers with low self-esteem may find it helpful to work with a therapist online so that they can learn how to best support their children.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What are the 3 types of self-esteem?

The three types of self-esteem are:

  1. Inflated self-esteem — People with this form of self-esteem tend to be self-centered, seeing themselves as better than other people. They may brag a lot to cover up their intense fear of failure or rejection. They may also blame others for their own shortcomings, potentially leading to unhealthy relationships and difficulty accepting feedback.

  2. High self-esteem — Those with high or healthy self-esteem generally believe in themselves. They’re typically ready to accept new challenges and confident they have what it takes to overcome them. They tend to feel like they have control over their own destiny.

  3. Low self-esteem — Those who experience low self-esteem may consistently engage in negative thinking about their capabilities, seeing themselves as not worthy of respect or love. 

What are 3 ways to build self-esteem?

Three tips for improving self-esteem can include:

  • Focusing on self-compassion
  • Capitalizing on your skills and strengths
  • Helping others

What causes low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is generally rooted in negative past experiences, especially those during childhood. It’s during this time that self-esteem can be built through one’s relationships to their parents, teachers, and peers. If these relationships are positive, a person may be more

likely to develop healthy self-esteem, allowing them to fully realize their personality through self-actualization. If not, they may be left feeling inadequate, afraid of life’s challenges, and vulnerable to mental health issues.

How can I stop feeling insecure?

If you want to stop feeling insecure, you might try surrounding yourself with positivity and avoiding negativity as much as possible. This can take many forms, from maintaining relationships with people who love and support you to challenging negative thoughts and feelings you may have. You may also consider being thankful for the good aspects of your personality or useful skills you may have.

Is low self-esteem heritable?

Studies indicate genetic factors can play a role in low self-esteem.

Does socioeconomic status influence self-esteem?

Studies show that those with higher socioeconomic status can be more likely to have positive self-esteem.

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