When teens have a healthy sense of their value and self-worth, they are healthier and happier. In contrast, low self-esteem can have serious consequences for physical and mental health.

Research shows that low self-esteem in teens can create anxiety, stress, loneliness, hurt friendships, and decrease academic performance. It can also increase the likelihood of depression and substance abuse.  

As a parent or adult who supports teens, how can you help the teen in your life develop positive self-esteem?

We asked leaders from youth-serving organizations in Colorado to share their expertise. 

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Tap to watch a 15-minute webinar from this panel of experts and youth advocates.

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SIGNS OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM 

It’s totally normal for teens to be concerned about their image. And in these years when they’re still trying to figure out who they are, it’s also normal for their self-esteem to go through highs and lows. Here are some signs that a teen is at a low point in their self-esteem: 

Isolation. They avoid activities they normally enjoy, or pull back from social plans with peers or adults. 

  • Try this: Talk to your teen to understand why they are pulling back — is it stress, discouragement, or something else? Encourage them to stick to hobbies and plans with friends that have brought them joy in the past 

Self-deprecating jokes. Although humor can be a healthy outlet for teens, jokes that are critical of themselves can also be a sign they are feeling down on themselves. 

  • Try this: When you hear a teen share a self-deprecating joke, don’t go along or ignore it if it feels problematic. Respond with something positive about your teen. And, find a moment later to ask them if something deeper is going on.

A different look. Clothing, hair color and accessories are all ways teens express themselves. If a teen is trying to hide or cover up who they are, that could be a sign their confidence is struggling.  

  • Try this: Ask them to share about their appearance and outfit choices, and listen without judgment. If they mention they are comparing themselves to someone else, or making a change to fit in, it could mean they need support to find their confidence again. 

HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACTS SELF-ESTEEM

“It’s an oversimplification to try to say social media is either good or bad for self-esteem. It’s about how we use these technologies and what types of interactions and connections young people are finding,” says Dr. Annie Margaret, an educator and researcher who studies the impact of digital media on mental health.  

For many young people, social media sites are a key way to connect with friends. To discover if your teen’s social media use is becoming unhealthy, have a conversation with them — and implement digital boundaries together.

Research how social platforms work

including how their algorithms deliver content and ads to the feed. Have a conversation with your teen about what you learn.

Work side-by-side with your teen to turn on privacy settings

across apps, to ensure they are not receiving content from accounts they don’t know. Tap for an article all about online safety — from a teen bullying prevention expert.

Empower your young person to block unhealthy connections

or accounts that don’t support them or positively impact their self-worth. 

Encourage teens to manage their time on the app

or accounts that don’t support them or positively impact their self-worth. 

TALK TO YOUR TEEN ABOUT SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES ON SOCIAL MEDIA

We can help! Tap to download a guide about safe, balanced social media use. Use this resource to have a conversation with your teen about the settings on their social media accounts, and how they use social media in ways that support their social well-being and mental health. 

WHAT ELSE CAN IMPACT SELF-ESTEEM? 

If your teen seems down on themselves, check-in on these other areas:

☑ Are they eating a relatively balanced diet and getting regular exercise?

Both can contribute positively to outlook and mental health. 

Are they getting enough sleep?

☑ Do they have passions and interests they are pursuing?

A challenge or hobby can help teens build confidence. 

☑ Are academics a source of stress or discouragement?

If your student is hard on themselves because of their grades, that can impact their self-esteem. Tap for tips to talk about academics with your teen in a supportive way.

Do they have positive friends in their life?

Are they hearing positive messages from parents and family members?

“We really need to be aware of how we’re talking in front of youth because that modeling is really how they’re going to base their actions in the future. It’s a small part of it, but it is a part of it,” said Liss Smith of Inside Out Youth Services 

HOW CAN PARENTS AND TRUSTED ADULTS HELP TEENS DEVELOP A POSITIVE SELF-IMAGE?

These youth engagement experts share their ideas.

“Try to do things that your youth likes to do."

“Try to do things that your youth likes to do. Let them know that there are people who are interested in what they're interested in, because when they feel like there's a common interest, those walls go down.” - Andrew Trader-Bankston, Project PAVE

"Give positive reinforcement"

"I still remember positive things that a teacher or a parent told me when I was young. Give that positive reinforcement when you seen a young person’s passions and talents.” - Sara McGill, Girls Inc. of Metro Denver 

“Help them process and learn from mistakes."

"We're all going to have negative feelings and we're all going to make mistakes. It's important to show teens ways of coping with those negative feelings, and then reframing them. That's a skill that takes a long time to develop. So if you can start that with your child now, then that is super helpful.” - Liss Smith, Inside Out Youth Services

"Compliment them, to tell them how proud you are of them."

“If you've noticed that your teen is rejecting some of your attempts to be affirming and proud and complimentary, it may not mean that they don't enjoy that kind of language. It may just be that they just aren't used to accepting compliments. It's still important to say those things, to affirm them, to compliment them, to tell them how proud you are of them. It makes a big difference.” - Liss Smith, Inside Out Youth Services

Thank you to our partners and experts on this topic:

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