If I could tell parents to help their teen develop one “superpower” it would be self-esteem. It is the sturdy foundation all of us need to evolve into the best version of ourselves, accomplish what we set out to do, and to feel worthy and capable in our lives. In other words — to thrive!
I have observed in the teens I work with that self-esteem and self-confidence can often get confused and can hold them back from thriving. Let’s unpack the meanings.
“Confidence” is the condition of having trust within oneself, a belief in one’s abilities and skills. “Self-esteem” concerns one’s feelings of self-worth, self-value, and lovability. One can be confident in skills and abilities, yet still not feel an overall love or satisfaction with themselves.
For example, we have Amirah, a high school junior who got excellent grades, starred in varsity softball, was popular and involved in many school activities. Yet, in our work together we found that Amirah was frantically ‘performing’ for approval (perfectionism) but still felt unworthy, not enough, unloved and unlovable.
Confidence and self-esteem work hand-in-hand. High self-esteem gives us courage to take healthy risks, thus, it boosts our confidence because we learn about a new ability or skill we didn’t know existed before. Likewise, greater confidence can enhance our self-esteem, building a positive perception of our self-worth.
Students who base their self-worth on external circumstances, such as academic performance, appearance, and approval from others, feel more anger and stress. As a result, they tend to do more poorly in school and have more conflict in relationships. They also have more substance use than students with healthier self-worth.
As teens explore and test their self-image and self-perception, what primarily informs them are the messages they receive from adults. As a parent or mentor of teens, you are one of their biggest influencers; your messages play a huge role in shaping their self-esteem, whether or not you believe they listen to you (they are listening)!
It’s never too late to help them step into a higher level of self-esteem and confidence (as aforementioned, the two feed each other).
Of course, this is also true of you as an adult — you can help raise your own self-esteem and self-worth by shifting the negative messages you still tell yourself. So, as I share these tips for parents with their teens, see if there are any that might help you as well.
1. Recognize your teen often for their positive personality traits, effort, and gifts — and for simply being the unique and wonderful person they are! However, be aware that too much complimenting can be interpreted as a reward for perfect performance rather than sincere support, love and acceptance.
2. Offer observations, prompts, and questions to inspire your teen’s perceptions on what healthy self-esteem and self-confidence are. Refrain from sounding too judgmental or “preachy.”
3. Help your teen sort out their own interpretations of people’s judgments. What one person assumes is a positive perspective may not be so positive for someone else. Teens live in a very different world from ours in personal and cultural ways, so reserving judgment can really help your teen make up their own minds about incoming messages from others.
4. Work on getting rid of some of the lingering messages in your own life that aren’t serving you anymore! Not only will you be leading by example, you also will boost your own Self-Esteem Superpower to thrive even more in your personal and professional life.