Written By: Kaitlin Cross, MS, LPC
Adolescence can be a challenging time for many teens as they figure out who they are and who they want to be. For many, this journey is filled with self-doubt, insecurity, and challenges as they search for their place in the world. Though teens may not say this directly (or even at all!), they still value your influence, support, and encouragement as they navigate through these times. With that, here are 10 ways you can support your teen and boost their self-esteem.
- Seek to Connect Before You Correct: Every teen needs to feel heard, seen, understood, and connected. While they definitely long to feel a sense of belonging and connection with peers, they will do well to have a foundation of meaningful belonging with the adults in their life. It is wise to LISTEN and reflect what you hear your child saying without correcting them. Always help them to feel connected, heard, and seen first. Let them know all their feelings are accepted.
- Providing Positive Redirection Instead of Correction: Along the same theme as the top above, your teen will be more open to receiving guidance or direction if they are first seen, heard and feeling connected to the adult who is listening. When you feel their behavior is personally offensive to you or unsafe (yelling at you, cursing, destructive actions) first thing to do is help them regroup and cease the unsafe behavior. The way you go about it will lend to how effectively they will be able to receive it. Try affirming the feeling and then provide an alternative that is not punitive or corrective.
For example, “I can see and hear you have a lot of big frustration right now and it seems like it feels like you need to move all that intense energy that is there. Instead of yelling/throwing things how about going for a run, or shooting some hoops, or I wonder if you have an idea that might work for you?”
- Be Curious and Remove the Judgment. If you want a teen to be able to share with you what she/he is feeling and experiencing so that you can help them navigate the stress, you have to drop the judgmental feelings you have and lean into curiosity about what this experience is like for your teen. Don’t assume you know how she/he feels or what she/he is going through. Their experiences are their own. Listen openly and invite them to help you better understand what they are feeling and why.
- Encourage Diversity in Their Activities and Interests. Teens who are regularly involved in activities such as sports teams, volunteer opportunities, and educational clubs tend to have a higher sense of self-esteem. Your teen is going to be more resilient when experiencing a setback in one area because they have other things contributing to their self-worth.
- Be the Change. Set a Good Example. Let your teen see you using healthy assertiveness, polite requests of others, and let them hear and see you processing the healthy way you navigate adult social stresses. Model for them by taking personal responsibility and apologizing when you yourself stumble and over-reacting, even in situations with them! Confident, clear, and persuasive communication does not come easy to everyone. Many teens don’t have a grasp on the differences between assertive, passive, and aggressive communication. Make time to practice and model this for them.
- Make Time for Regular Talks. Set up a ritual of talking on a regular basis so the tone will be set for your teen to feel comfortable talking with you when the going gets tough. For example, chat with them on a consistent basis while riding in the car together, invite them to help you prep meals together so you can talk, go for a special outing together on a weekly basis, or take walks together. Find time to casually open the opportunities for communication so your teen will open up to you.
- Praise the Process and Tie It to the Outcome. As a caregiver, it’s easy to go overboard, gushing about your teen’s awards, accomplishments, and positive outcomes. What parent or caregiver wouldn’t be proud? Unfortunately, these things can become tied to their self-esteem, causing them to place a condition that they’re only worthwhile if they achieve. On the flip side, they also aren’t worthwhile if they fall fail or fall short making them feel anxious or at times give up. Instead, congratulate your teen’s endeavors, and growth by emphasizing their hard work, effort, and perseverance. Focusing on the characteristics that got them to that point will help them make the connection between their effort and the result.
- Encourage Your Teen to Use Self-Compassion. Often, having a growth mindset requires kindness and patience with ourselves as we grow and learn. Contrary to social media, influencers, and their peers, your teen doesn’t need an outside opinion to prove personal worth. If you notice your teen is stuck in a negative or fixed mindset about their worth, encourage them to embrace self-compassion.Kristin Neff offers many resources for teens and young adults about this topic. Also encourage your teens to explore mindfulness activities. Have them try the Calm app or the Headspace app, go to a yoga class or a meditation course together (if socially distanced and accessible to you). Learn together the power of slowing down the breath. Not only will doing this together help your bond but it will also prepare them to self soothe when the social stresses get tough.
- Help Your Teen Feel Confident They’ll Get Through It. Sometimes a teen needs to hear that they have what it takes to get through a tough time and when they feel they don’t, reaching out for help is always available.
- Consider Professional Support. Sometimes even if a caregiver does all tips listed above, a teen may simply need a neutral, unbiased professional adult to help them. If your teen is showing signs of not handling the social stresses to the point they appear persistently sad, withdrawn, anxious, or other signs, it may be time to reach out and get them to see a therapist who specializes in helping adolescents.
In support of September being National Suicide Prevention Month, we here at North Texas Counseling Associates hope to remind everyone who may be struggling, in pain, or in a dark place that you are not alone and can reach out for help at any time. We are all in this together. With this belief, we also aim to promote community care, awareness, and the need to provide education and resources to help.