May is Teen Mental Health Awareness Month and one of the biggest aspects of a teen’s mental well-being is their self-esteem and self-acceptance. With everything going on in the world today regarding social pressures and expectations being put on them, it’s easy to imagine how quickly teens can begin to lose touch with their value. And often, parents and loved ones are left with one question: how can I help my teen create a healthy sense of self?
What Does it Mean to Have High Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem can be defined as someone’s overall sense of worth or value. So, for one to have high self-esteem, they need to have an overall belief that they are worthy; that they are valuable. Taking this into account, it’s not too difficult to imagine why self-esteem is such a big topic for teenagers. Teens have a desire to be a part of something, a desire for connection. The teen years are plagued by the desire to be accepted by their peers. So, when they feel that this is not the case, their sense of self takes a toll.
Another term that is often confused with self-esteem is self-acceptance. These two concepts are very different with self-esteem being contingent on external messaging and self-acceptance being focused on the internal messaging. With self-acceptance, there is no need for comparisons between ourselves and others as we know deep down that we are inherently worthy. Self-esteem is dependent on who we are with, while self-acceptance is solid and enduring. So how can we start to shift our teens’ thoughts from self-esteem to self-acceptance? From external to internal?
Ways to Help Teenagers Develop Self-Acceptance
First, we must learn to listen empathetically to our teens. We must listen to what they are telling us about themselves without rushing in to fix or offer solutions. What this cultivates is trust in one’s perceptions. When we try to fix, correct, or challenge their thoughts without fully listening to what they are saying (and what they are not saying), we run the risk of them not feeling fully heard or feeling invalidated. But if we allow them to speak freely, we are modeling acceptance of their thoughts and feelings, allowing them to also begin to accept them, rather than judge them.
Secondly, we must focus on their strengths. A teen who is struggling with their self-esteem may only be seeing where they are falling short and not where they are excelling. This can be due to societal pressures to constantly improve and reach certain standards put in front of them. But focusing solely on weaknesses and aspects of ourselves that need improvement can be detrimental. It can lead to feeling as though we are only made of weak points and that we are a project to be fixed. This doesn’t allow one to ever have self-acceptance of where they are at and who they are. Offering reminders of their strengths can ground teens and allow them to see their situation from a full perspective, one in which there is balance between internal positives and negatives. Doing so provides the building blocks for our teens to form a healthier internal sense of self. Rather than focusing solely on negatives, they can see that they possess qualities that they can be proud of. When they do this, they can begin to see themselves as whole.
Lastly, we must model acceptance of ourselves in front of our teens. Doing this offers an opportunity for our teens to do this as well. When teens are shown what self-acceptance looks like every day, they can see how beneficial it can be to not only realize their shortcomings, but to embrace them as part of who they are.