Teenagers and Self-Esteem

May is Teen Self-Esteem Month, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about self-esteem, what it means and how it can have an impact on the lives of teenagers. 

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is how we perceive and value ourselves. Our personal opinions and beliefs about ourselves form the basis of self-esteem. These can be difficult to change, especially if they have been the same for a long period of time. Our self-esteem can determine things such as, whether you like and value yourself as a person, whether you are able to recognise your strengths, whether you believe that you deserve happiness and whether you are able to try new or difficult things.

Low self-esteem is not a mental health condition on its own, although it can lead to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety and vice versa; having a mental health disorder can lead to having low self-esteem. It is difficult to determine the cause and effect.

If a person has low self-esteem it can affect them in various ways, it could lead to the following:

  • Relationship problems
  • Finding it difficult to make and maintain friendships
  • Negative moods (sad, anxious, ashamed, or angry)
  • Low motivation to do usual tasks
  • Poor body image (not looking after yourself as you would usually)
  • Earlier sexual activity (maybe as a result of trying to make yourself feel valued by another human being)
  • Drinking alcohol and/or taking drugs

Self-Esteem Through Childhood:

Self-esteem in children tends to be fairly high, with most children being confident and having positive views on themselves and their future. Although there are individual differences in all children and therefore some may be unfortunate enough to experience low self-esteem from a young age. This is usually due to physical punishments and not receiving much love and affection from their parents/caregivers. Psychologist Carl Rodgers says that children are conditioned to only feel worthy and loved when they act in a certain way; for example, parents show them more love and affection when they receive good grades in class. This means that when they are not receiving good grades, they start to feel less worthy as their parents do not show them the same level of love and care. Children with low self-esteem tend to show behaviours such as bullying, cheating on tests, avoiding interacting with others and quitting as soon as they see signs of struggle. Although all children will show some of these behaviours at some point in their lives; it is when they act out in this way regularly that it could be a sign of low self-esteem.

As children grow up and reach teenage years, they are hit by new pressures and their self-esteem may take a beating. Research shows that self-esteem tends to decline in teenage years, especially for females. Researchers have put this decline down to puberty and body image. Teenagers are faced with more social pressures than children, as they reach the age of engaging in social media, which is filled with airbrushed images of the ‘ideal’ body and articles shaming certain body types. It is said that girls report much lower self-esteem than boys when they reach their teenage years (Robins et al, 2002).

Having positive self-esteem can help to create emotionally resilient adults, who are able to be independent, take pride in their achievements, accept their frustrations and deal with them accordingly, try new things and help others if and when possible.

What Can Cause Low Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem can be affected by many things and can, therefore, change suddenly. Difficult or stressful life events can have a large impact on self-esteem. Such as:

  • Being bullied or abused
  • Experiencing discrimination or stigma
  • Losing your job or finding it hard to become employed
  • Experiencing problems at work or while studying
  • Experiencing ongoing stress
  • Having ongoing physical health problems
  • Having mental health conditions
  • Relationship problems, such as separation or divorce (either yourself or parents)
  • Worrying about appearance and body image
  • Having financial concerns
  • Having unsupportive parents/caregivers
  • Friends who are bad influences
  • Poor performance in school or having unrealistic goals

Signs Someone Is Suffering From Low Self-Esteem:

Children and teens who are experiencing low self-esteem are likely to avoid new things, blame others for their own mistakes, have negative thoughts about themselves and/or talk about themselves in a negative manner. Teenagers may show other signs such as; walking with their head down, avoiding eye contact with others, being involved with teasing and gossiping about others, engage in inappropriate physical contact or avoiding physical contact altogether, use gestures that are dramatic and often out of context, speaking loudly and in an aggressive tone and constantly apologizing.

If you think that someone is speaking about themselves in a negative manner and avoiding things that they would usually take part in, try speaking to them, compliment them and help them with anything they may be struggling with. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.

Ways Of Improving Low Self-Esteem: 

There are ways to help improve your self-esteem however that does not mean that it is easy.

Try to recognise the things that you are good at; we are all good at something whether it be cooking, colouring, solving puzzles or being a good friend. The things that we are good at are often the things that we receive joy from doing, and therefore boost our mood when we do them.

Surround yourself with positive people and build positive relationships. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, try to avoid spending time with them or speak to them and let them know how their behaviour is making you feel.

Be kind to yourself. This is a difficult one! Think about what you would say to a friend if they were experiencing a similar situation to yourself and take your own advice on board. We often give great advice to others and not so good advice to ourselves.

Practice self-love. Try keeping a self-esteem journal and write things such as:

  • Something I did well today….
  • I felt proud when…
  • Something I did for someone else…
  • Today I accomplished…
  • I felt good about myself when…

And so on an so forth. This is a good exercise for both children, teenagers and adults as it encourages us to focus on the positive things that are happening around us as well as acknowledging our achievements and allowing ourselves to feel proud of them.


Self-Esteem and Teenagers

PsychologyToday – Adolescence and Self-Esteem

PsychologyToday – Why Teenagers With Low Self-Esteem Develop Depression as Adults

NHS – Raising Self-Esteem

Understanding Teenagers – 10 Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Teenagers

SimplyPsychology – Low Self-Esteem

Work Sheets for Self-Esteem for Children, Teens and Adults

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