Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Treatment for Teens With Low Self-Esteem

Self Esteem for Teens

Decades ago, teens who were dealing with self-esteem issues confided in a few friends. In the age of social media, it seems the whole world knows about their problems.

“In the past, teens would go through normal life phases and struggles within their group and family, but now that struggle can be broadcast -- by themselves or others -- all over the internet with the inability to take it back,” said Amy Moor, Program Director at Elk River Treatment Program.

Social media sites have put peer pressure on a world stage for that particularly sensitive segment of the population.

“Now they no longer struggle with their own thoughts but having to be inundated by others pushing their thoughts and opinions on them,” Moor said.

A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that four in 10 teens say they feel pressure to post only social platform content that makes them look good or will get lots of “likes.”

Twenty-six percent of those in the Pew study said the sites make them feel worse about their own lives. Four percent of the teens surveyed reported that social media platforms make them feel “a lot” worse about their own life.

Why Do Teens Have Low Self-Esteem?

Besides social media, other contributing factors for poor self-image in young people include negative self-talk, overly critical parents, little or no education, difficulty communicating, neglectful parents and trauma at a young age.

Race and weight (BMI) are also “important predictors of self-esteem,” reported the Journal of Adolescent Health, with potentially serious results.

“Lower levels of self-esteem may increase the vulnerability of adolescents to risky behaviors,” the journal reported.

A study of self-esteem in adolescents found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website found various physical and personality characteristics associated with lower self-esteem. Those include female gender, Hispanic race, overweight and obesity, sensation seeking, rebelliousness and daily TV watching. In general, young black teens tend to fare better.

Teens naturally have ups and downs in moods, thoughts and tasks as they strive to become individuals, said Moor. Parents who see a dramatic negative shift in their child’s approach to life, though, should pay particular attention.

For example, teens who were once outgoing, social and involved in family or extracurricular activities but are suddenly withdrawn and disconnected may need professional help, she suggested.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, “research has shown that low self-esteem increases the risk to develop depressive symptoms during adolescence.” Why and for how long are not really known.

Parents have to be there to support their children with their self-esteem struggles, Moor said, but encourage them to do the work. She compared it to the time of development when toddlers are learning to walk. They fall, but parents encourage them to get up and try again.

“What makes it difficult with teenagers, is it is hard to see them go through the emotional falls because that brings up our own personal hurts from teenage years,” she said. “We don't want our children to experience those hurts and sadness.”

Failing, overcoming obstacles and working to accomplish tasks builds self-esteem in the long run, she said.

“We at Elk River take the approach that behavior issues come from losses that were out of our control,” said Moor. “We support our clients in grieving these losses and identifying where their issues of self-esteem, self-doubt, and negative self talk come from.

“Once they make those connections, they are able to separate themselves from the thinking errors and replace thoughts in a more positive light.”

Self-Esteem Activities for Teens

This excerpt from a self-esteem worksheet at PositivePsychology.com advises teens (or adults) to create affirmations, or positive sayings:

  • Affirmations start with the words “I am…”
  • Affirmations are positive. Never use the word “not” in an affirmation. For example, instead of writing “I am not afraid to express myself,” you could write, “I am confidently sharing my opinion”
  • Affirmations are short
  • Affirmations are specific. For example, instead of writing, “I am driving a new car,” you would write, “I am driving a new black Range Rover”
  • Affirmations are in the present tense and include a word that ends in “-ing”
  • Affirmations have a “feeling” word in them. Examples include “confidently,” “successfully” or “gracefully”
  • Affirmations are about yourself. They should be about your own behavior, never someone else’s.