5 Ways to Help Your Self-Conscious Teen Build Healthy Self-Esteem

This guest post is authored by Kristine Tye, M.A. MFT, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California who specializes in anxiety treatment and teen mental health. She engages teens in a therapeutic process that builds self-awareness and develops tools for managing thoughts and emotions in healthy ways. You can download her free guide for parents, “How to Talk So Your Teen Will Listen: The Secret Strategy.” 

Do you have a self-conscious teen who often seems distant or overly critical? Perhaps your child is excessively concerned about physical appearance, social interactions or academic pressure.

Although some self-conscious thoughts are normal during the teen years, a self-conscious teen may also have low self-esteem. This can have a profound negative impact on a teen’s life and contribute to unhealthy relationships, low achievement, or depression and anxiety. Teens who are irritable or rude toward their parents often struggle with self-doubt or self-loathing. and they may act out their frustrations toward you.

A common mistake is to use logic to convince a teen to think more positively. Unfortunately, this can create more tension and negativity, especially if your teen tends to be anxious.

Here 5 ways you can guide your teen to feel less self-conscious and have healthier self-esteem.

  1. Ask your teen’s opinion before offering advice

Asking open, honest, and curious questions (as free from assumptions and judgment as possible) will help develop a supportive relationship with your teen.

Ask your teen what they think about the situation without assuming that you know the answer. For example, if you want your teen to be more assertive against peer pressure, resist the urge to suggest what your teen should say or do. Instead, get your teen to think of potential solutions.

It may take time for your teen to be comfortable problem solving with you, but it’s worth the effort. Ultimately, this will allow you to have a more positive influence on your teen’s decisions.

  1. Value skills more than exact behaviors

You can’t force solutions on your child. You want your teen to make good choices, but ultimately your child will have to make his or her own decisions. You can, however, be a sounding board for their thought process and offer a space for them to think through their feelings and their options. This will help your teen be much more equipped to make decisions on their own later in life.

If you want your teen to develop more self-acceptance, confidence or coping skills, affirm ways that your teen is already showing these traits.

  1. Don’t try to protect your teen from problems, and don’t force your teen into problems

Let your teen take risks without being judged or rescued. Your teen doesn’t need to avoid all stressful situations – or to suffer through all of them, either. What they need is to practice addressing the difficult situations that do arise.

Embrace opportunities for skill building without feeling the need to construct a false situation just to test your teen or force them to problem solve. Don’t push your teen into a situation if it isn’t aligned with their goals, needs, and values (such as requiring that they play a sport that they do not enjoy). Pushing them into an unnecessarily stressful situation will encourage hopeless, frustrated or self-critical feelings because they will be left feeling ill-equipped and unfulfilled.

Alternatively, don’t save your teen from a situation that is a part of a meaningful growth experience (such as taking them out of a class they are interested in because they’re afraid to approach the teacher with questions). Saving your teen from a situation may perpetuate dependence and low self-confidence because they’ll miss the opportunity to resolve it themselves.

  1. Keep the caring, let go of the worrying

Worrying isn’t a valid expression of caring.  Practice caring without worrying. Take time to notice glimpses of positive behavior or attitude from your teen, so you can give kind attention rather than anxious attention.

Using positive words daily is more important than having a good suggestion or solution for your teen because the bottom line is for your teen to feel capable and confident, not to make what you judge is the right choice.

  1. Get the right support for yourself and for your teen

Consider whether the parents you connect with are instilling confidence and positivity in their teen’s lives. Make a point to select parenting support that helps you feel accepted, supported and motivated to be the parent you want to be.

Find additional support for your teen that will offer guidance, acceptance and healthy challenges, such as friends and adult mentors. A therapist who specializes in working with teens can help them stay emotionally aware and on track for a healthy adulthood.

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My new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including  “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”