Kimberly is extremely confident. She is the social butterfly of the youth group, she’s an athlete, and her grades always earn her a place on the Honor Roll. Everyone who knows her sees that she is generally happy and outgoing with high self-esteem. Her cousin Lily however, is just the opposite. Lily likes to keep to herself and is often jokingly called a “hermit” by her family and the few friends that she has. She’s not involved in any extracurricular activities, she spends most of her time on social media, and she is often heard by her parents saying, “I can’t ever do anything right.” Her self-esteem is pretty low and her family is concerned. So, why does one cousin have such high self-esteem while the other cousin barely likes herself?
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) defines self-esteem as an overall reflection of a person’s self-worth, their beliefs about themselves, and the emotional response that is attached to those beliefs (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2914631/.) It’s clear that some teenagers have very high self-esteem while others struggle with feeling good about themselves and their accomplishments. Although the research has been mixed about what contributes to feelings of high and low self-worth among adolescents, there does seem to be some common characteristics. The NCBI has identified these findings:
- Female teenagers tend to have lower self-esteem. (Please keep in mind that although this seems to be a risk factor for higher levels of low self-esteem, it’s important to understand that teenage boys struggle with self-esteem issues too.)
- Hispanic teenagers tend to have the lowest levels of self-esteem while African American teenagers tend to have the highest level of self-esteem when compared to their counterparts of other ethnic groups.
- Body image, particularly obesity increases the rate of low self-esteem.
- Teenagers with high levels of rebelliousness and sensation seeking tend to have lower self-esteem.
- Teenagers who report higher levels of television and electronic use also tend to have lower self-esteem
- Teenagers who have parents who demonstrate a more responsive and demanding parenting style generally have higher self-esteem.
- Youth who have better grades in school tend to have higher rates of self-esteem
- Teenagers who regularly participate in team sports have higher rates of self-esteem
These are some of the characteristics that seem to be consistent when measuring rates of self-esteem among teenagers. Unfortunately, there are many youth who struggle with low self-esteem and research shows that there is a high correlation between adolescents with low self-esteem and depression, risk taking behavior, and other mental and behavioral health traits. Therefore, it’s extremely important that parents, educators, and other individuals who have contact with teenagers on a regular basis encourage healthy self-esteem among adolescents. Here are some effective strategies:
- Teach youth to reframe their thinking and self-perceptions using affirmations and self-compassion. Adolescents tend to be very hard on themselves when they see what they consider to be an imperfection. Whether they’re criticizing their shortcomings or punishing themselves when they make a mistake, excessive self-criticism for human errors can cause one’s self-esteem to plummet. So instead, teenagers should be encouraged to affirm their strengths and demonstrate compassion for themselves, even when they fall short of their own expectations. In fact, Psychology Today suggests reminding teens after they have made an unwise decision that “hurt(ing) yourself when you are already hurting only makes the hurt worse. When you’re hurting is a time not to treat yourself badly, but well. That way you can motivate yourself to do better.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201009/adolescence-and-self-esteem)
- Parental education is important. It is important for parents to set limits and adopt a responsive parenting style. Parents should encourage less sedentary behavior and more activity and team oriented activities with their teens to help boost overall self-confidence. This doesn’t necessarily mean to force your children to participate in sports that they hate, but there are plenty of group activities that teenagers can participate in that suit their likes and personality.
- Public health interventions and health counseling are also very important in promoting higher self-esteem among teens. Pediatricians, family doctors, mental health professionals, and other health providers can help by counseling teens and parents on the importance of limiting electronic time and promoting healthier endeavors.
Low self-esteem is still an issue that youth continue to encounter. However, research is showing that interventions like the ones mentioned above can certainly help young people learn to feel better about themselves.