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Building Self Esteem in Your Teenager

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/18/2006 | Parenting
Adolescence is one of the most difficult times of life for both teenagers and their parents. As teenagers go out into the world, they are confronted with mixed messages about their looks, their behavior, and their attitude. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, and are easily influenced by those with whom they spend the most time.

At this age, teenagers are worried about how they look, concerned about their popularity, and very focused on their own feelings and experiences. These truths, combined with still immature reasoning and judgment means that teenagers are prone to distortions in their self image and are likely to have at least somewhat unrealistic estimations of their own capacities.

As a parent, you, naturally, want to help your child with every advantage in life. Most importantly, perhaps, is that you want your child to grow up to be confident, responsible, and successful. How can you best foster self esteem in your teenager?

1) Give them clear rules to follow. All children, no matter what age, respond best to clear instruction. Your teenager may balk or fight over your rules, but this is par for the course. Clear rules communicate the value you have for your child, and when your children know they are valued, this is the first building block of self esteem.

2) Balance out criticism with appropriate acknowledgements. When your child does something well, say so. Acknowledge their skills, talents or abilities, and be sure to pay attention to the positives rather than only the negatives.

3) Let them make some of their own decisions. Teenagers learn good decision-making by actually making decisions. Allow them to make decisions with your guidance. Ask them to share their lines of thinking with you and their reasoning. Help them see where their reasoning or judgment might be better.

4) Keep in regular contact with them. Although teenagers are likely to be self-centered and self focused, be sure to talk to them anyway. Ask about their day, find out what they are feeling, and share information about your day and your feelings too. No matter how much your teenager wants to isolate or disconnect from the family, work to keep them engaged and involved.

5) Be proud of your teenager, and tell them so. When your child accomplishes a goal or is awarded an honor, take the extra step to let him or her know how proud you are. Words make a huge difference; don't just assume that they already know.

6) Support your child during a conflict. When your child is in conflict with another, find a way to support his/her viewpoint while maintaining your personal integrity. Your child will not always be right; but he or she will not always be wrong. Being supportive of your child during conflict provides a strong foundation for meeting all kinds of challenges.

7) Examine your own self esteem and feelings of limitation. If you have struggled with your own self esteem, take care not to impose these same struggles on your child. Children are very susceptible to absorbing their parent's opinions and belief systems, so take care not to impose your own negative beliefs on your child.

8) Be consistent. If you want to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child (and you probably do), be consistent with your rules and your approach. It doesn't matter so much what the rules are. It matters more that the rules are always the rules. Don't criticize your child for something one day and praise him for it the next. Children don't gain self esteem in the face of constant change.

9) Remind your child of your support. It's like the old saying, "give them roots to ground them, but wings to fly". Let them know you are there to help them whenever they need it. Again, this feeling of support and constancy will help them become more confident in the world.

10) Finally, celebrate their uniqueness. Every parent has cherished dreams and goals for their child. This doesn't mean that the child will want those same dreams and goals for him or herself. When there is a gap between desires and reality, you, as a parent, must bridge that space by letting go of what you desired and truly, deeply loving who your child is.

These tools will help you build your child's self esteem. With high self esteem, your child will move through the world more confidently, be more willing to take necessary risks, and will be more successful. And what parent wouldn't want that?